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Goodall buoy Chaponda in court: Confirms issuing licence for dollars found stashed in suitcases

State prosecutors had a rude awakening on Tuesday at Zomba Magistrate Court court when its 11th witness, Finance, Economic Planning and Development Minister Goodall Gondwe vindicated claims made by former minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda in the case relating to the Zambian maize import transactions that he got permit to keep foreign currency.

Photo opportunity with cheers: Relieved Chaponda with ministers Goodall Gondwe and Henry Mussa outside Zomba Magistrate Court.-Photo by Chancy Namadzunda, Nyasa Times

Chaponda claimed he had a licence of possession of foreign currency that he obtained from Minister of Finance in 2004.

Between US$58,000 and MK124 million in cash was found after a search at Chaponda’s home last year.

Testifying before Zomba Magistrate Court,  Gondwe said indeed Chaponda had a licence for the forex.

Asked by lead state prosecutor MacMillan Chakhala what powers does a Finance Minister have pertaining to issuance of foreign currency permits, Gondwe said : “The Exchange Control Act says the minister is the authority in foreign currency, but can also designate the role to Reserve Bank of Malawi.”

He told the court: “But I can exercise that at anytime.”

Gondwe confirmed that he indeed issued the permit to Chaponda as directed by the Head of State in 2004  to keep some reasonable foreign currency because “he had an ailment that made him travel regularly for treatment and also as a foreign affairs minister at that particular time.”

The Finance Minister, who took 58 minutes to testify while seated, could also not explicitly explain whether the licence allowed Chaponda to keep forex in his residence or at the bank, only saying “the licence allowed Chaponda to keep a reasonable amount of forex wherever he travelled.”

Asked to explain what ‘reasonable’ meant in the permit, Gondwe could not define reasonable amount because charges differ time to time.

“I think your guess is as good as mine on that one,” he said while emphasizing that the permit was issued both to  Chaponda as a person and a foreign affairs minister and it remains valid up to now.

In his testimony, Gondwe contradicted himself with his written statement tendered in court which indicated that he issued the licence to Chaponda in his capacity as minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation but in his oral testimony Gondwe said he was instructed by the President to issue the permit to Chaponda both in his capacity as a Cabinet minister and as an individual

On the maize purchase deal, Gondwe said there was no way Chaponda could have forced  former Admarc chief executive office Foster Mulumbe to issue a contract to TransGlobe Produce Limited because the Ministry of Finance was central to the purchase.

Gondwe clearly said Chaponda did not act corruptly.

“The Head of State delegated  Dr Chaponda to Zambia in his capacity as Minister of Agriculture to negotiate with the Zambian President on the possibility that we purchase maize there. At that time, there was no maize available for purchase in the whole Southern Africa except in Zambia.

” So it was two ways, Dr Chaponda was looking for maize in Zambia while I was looking for the same overseas. However, we were told by our colleagues from Zambia that we should wait for the elections before purchasing the maize,” he said.

Gondwe added that after the elections in Zambia,  Chaponda went back to find if the maize was still there only to find that there was not enough for purchasing.

However, he reported that there was a possibility that there is maize in the country that can be purchased.

Gondwe said he met Chaponda’s co-accused, Rashid Tayub of Transglobe twice in his ministerial office.

“He showed me a letter that he can export maize from Zambia. During the first time, he had higher prices and during the second times he had a better offer,” he said.

Asked by  prosecutor Chakhala as to  who accompanied Tayub, Gondwe said he was accompanied by ‘a certain young man probably his relation and presidential adviser Symon Vuwa  Kaunda.

Asked by lead defence lawyer Tamando Chokhotho whether the permit authorised Chaponda to keep foreign currency within the country, Gondwe said it was both within and outside.

“Well, it goes like this, as a minister or a person with an ailment, he might travel outside the country today and come back, then after two days there might also be a need for him to travel again, so obviously the currency should be at home,” said Gondwe.

He also retaliated that he knew not of any consultation between Mulumbe and Tayub on the maize purchase deal, when he was asked by lawyer representing Tayub, Jai Banda.

Gondwe  also  said Vuwa Kaunda played no role in the whole deal.

The former Cabinet minister, who is also vice-president for the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) responsible for Southern Region and member of Parliament (MP) Mulanje South West Constituency, is answering  two criminal counts of misusing public office and possession of foreign currency without the lawful justification.

On the other hand, Tayub and Grace Mijiga-Mhango, a businessperson and chairperson of the Grain Traders and Processors Association of Malawi (GTPA, face  offences of influencing a public officer to misuse public office and forgery, respectively. All the three pleaded not guilty.

They were arrested by ACB in July last year on suspicion of corruption relating to procurement of the K26 billion maize from Zambia.

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