The first convict in the ongoing ‘cashgate’ cases. former Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism Treaser Namathanga-Senzani who was found guilty on her own plea of theft and money laundering, will be sentenced on October 2.
‘Cashgate’ denotes the systematic skimming of millions of dollars of money from the government payment system.
High court judge Ivy Kamanga on Monday said she will deliver pass her sentencing on October 2 on the case of former PS for Tourism, Treza Namathanga Senzani, who pleaded guilty to charges of theft of K63 million (about US$150,000) and money laundering.
Namathanga-Senzani now faces a prison sentence of up to five years for the theft and of up to ten years plus two million kwacha fine for the money laundering offences. But the sentence after own plea of guilty is at the judge’s discretion.
The defence are seeking a lighter sentence, while prosecutors from the Anti-Corruption Bureau demanded a maximum sentence of five years for theft and 10 years for money laundering, charges which the defence disputed.
Senzani’s lawyer, Necton Mhura, has submitted that the court should be lenient with Senzani.
Mhura’s reason for asking for leniency are that Senzani has already lost her job, she has paid back the K63 million stolen from government, she has fully cooperated with prosecution and that she is old and prisons are harsh on the aged.
He said the convict “could not be described as the worst offender because she pleaded guilty as an indication of remorse and contrition.”
Restitution, he said, was the major mitigating factor in reducing the sentence on Senzani.
He said by pleading guilty, his client had not wasted court’s time and not wasted taxpayer’s money in lengthy prosecution.
“Pleas of guilty must be encouraged,” Mhura said.
Prosecutor Reyneck Matemba who is ACB deputy director, in his response, said that the court should pass custodial sentence because Senzani committed breach of trust as a controlling officer.
He added that Malawi government has lost donor aid because of her stealing.
“When Senzani stole, she knew she would get caught and lose her job. After restitution, government has lost donor aid. She has resituated and pleaded guilty but decision to steal from Malawians still stands,” he said.
Matemba also argued against Mhura’s suggestion that Senzani cooperated with the prosecution.
He said Senzani didn’t help prosecution; she remained silent and only pleaded guilty because of the overwhelming evidence against her.
“We are not looking at plea of guilty as a sign of remorse, we are simply looking at the mitigating factors the court may take to account when it comes to sentencing,” Matemba said.
He said instead of Senzani “safeguarding resources, she did the opposite. As if this is not enough, she was chairperson of the internal procurement committee…she knew what she was doing.”
“She knew that by taking K63 million when she did not supply any goods or services, she would be caught, she would be punished and lose her job. The fact that she will lose her job should not sway this court to be lenient on her…she intended that consequence, my lady,” he said.
Matemba went on to say that Cashgate should not be blamed on the loopholes in the payment system because the systems were operated by individuals.
Senzani, accompanied by her husband and family members, sat calmly during the lawyers’ exchanges.
Justice Ivy Kamanga then granted the convict bail with part of her bail condition requiring her to register her real property.
Cashgate’ unravelled following the shooting of former Budget Director Paul Mphwiyo on 14 September 2013. Thereafter, huge sums of money in Malawi Kwacha, South African Rands and US dollars started showing up in unlikely places like car boots or under pillows as the suspects were avoiding formal banking since the unexplained money could have raised eye-brows.
At least 70 people were arrested and are currently facing theft, fraud, corruption and money laundering charges in courts.
Western donor nations, who bank roll at least 40 percent of Malawi’s budget, reacted by pulling the plug on the earmarked US $150m in budgetary support.
‘Cashgate’ is Malawi’s biggest financial scandal in the southern African country’s 50-year history as an independent country.