Joyce Banda, Kasambara fallout: Nyasa Times exclusive analysis on Malawi cashgate

Nothing captures the essence of the moment that propelled Joyce Banda (JB) to power than this one photograph taken on 6 April 2012: in it is Joyce Banda — the then unassuming vice president — seated in front of a small table talking to the press, under a tree, at her Area 12 residence in Lilongwe. Unlike the large entourage and hangers-on that, now, surround her both at home and frequently on the road, on that fateful day, Joyce Banda was flanked by only two men: her husband, the former Chief Justice Richard Banda and her lawyer, Ralph Kasambara.

Bingu wa Mutharika had — as we all now know — died but was flown out to South Africa in a desperate attempt by his cronies to fool Malawians and, in the process, circumvent the constitution and stop JB from assuming the presidency. For Joyce Banda, it was a time of uncertainty and unease and it is to her husband and Ralph Kasambara that she turned for support, direction, advice, strategy and—most importantly—the very words of what she was going to say at her maiden press conference as de facto President of the Republic of Malawi.

Those in the know say it is Kasambara, working with Richard Banda, who worked long into the nights, strategizing the legal and political maneuvers that floored those who were plotting to stop JB’s ascendancy to power. To cut to the chase, Joyce Banda won the battle, took over as president and went on to form a government in which, not surprisingly, she appointed Kasambara as both Minister of Justice and Attorney General. To the outsider, this made sense as the President needed someone she trusted, someone who had been with her in the trenches at Waterloo, to continue to advise her and her government on legal issues especially in the shaky early days.

The President and the First Gentleman interact with Kasambara and his children in Nkhata Bay

But nineteen months is a long time in politics, they say. Today Joyce Banda has locked Kasambara behind bars and, it seems, she wants the keys thrown away. So, where did it all go wrong?

It is dizzying watching the People’s Party (PP) go into overdrive in its obvious smear campaign against one of their own, who — until two weeks ago — held the position of Director of Legal Affairs in the party. Evidently, something went horribly wrong between Kasambara and JB and between PP and Kasambara.

And it might not even be about cashgate, contrary to what the PP apologists are desperate for the people to believe. To begin with, at no time in this whole fiasco has Kasambara been connected to any of the stolen billions. Not once. The Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) list of cashgate looters, does not include any of Kasambara’s personal or business accounts. At no time has the ACB questioned Kasambara’s wealth, or absence of it.

Nevertheless, the PP propagandists have tried very hard to convince the world that Kasambara is the Mafia, the Godfather of all underhand dealings taking place in the government; and also that he is a womanizer, a girl-defiler, short that he is the very incarnate of everything that is illegal and immoral about this government. But nothing about him being an embezzler of billions from government has come out from their mouths. Not even once.

So, just when did they know all this? And if they knew he is all this how did JB let him run her legal affairs and even take charge of the delicate job of navigating the minefield that was her ascendancy to power following Bingu’s death?

As the crescendo of the smear campaign rises each day, the nation still awaits to hear exactly how Kasambara is connected to cashgate. And so far, none of that has been forthcoming. The diversionary strategy being employed by JB and her PP propagandists is one we have seen before. Bingu used the same ploy against his real and imagined enemies — arrest them, malign them, tarnish their image so that whatever they might say after that will be said to be sour grapes and dismissed as fiction. Bingu did that with  Dr Cassim Chilumpha and today, even on the absence of a court hearing let alone a conviction, Chilumpha is seen by many as someone who tried to assassinate the president. And so, as the smear campaign has gone into overdrive against him, Kasambara, to his credit, has kept his dignity and only promised to speak at the appropriate time. The nation waits for that moment with collective bated breath.

The Good Old Days It is a known fact that during their days in the wilderness when Mutharika was president, both Joyce Banda and Khumbo Kachale used Kasambara’s law firm to act for them. It shouldn’t surprise, therefore, that it was Kasambara who flanked JB on April 6, 2012. As president, JB has been to Kasambara’s constituency on not one but two, separate, occasions to offer her support for his bid for MP in 2014. On one such occasion, the president went to Nkhata Bay to perform so innocuous a task as inaugurating Kasambara’s PP constituency office. Yes, the entire State President flew all the way from State House to Nkhata Bay district to open a constituency office at Mpamba! This tells how close these two were.

And it was Kasambara, the president tasked to lead a group of cabinet ministers to meet with John Kapito, after he had threatened to mobilize street protests against JB. Again, it was Kasambara that was sent by JB to negotiate and sign on behalf of Malawi Government a Labour Migration Treaty with the United Arab Emirates; by-passing ministers of Foreign Affairs and Labour. It seems when push came to shove, JB knew better who to trust. And on these and many other occasions, it was to Kasambara that she turned to.

Aftermath of Cashgate

So it is interesting that from the day we heard that the Budget Director had been shot, the PP machinery went into gear to link the Minister of Justice to the shooting. It seems they had their own investigation, running parallel to what the Police were doing. They celebrated when Pika Manondo, Mphwiyo’s best friend, surrendered himself to the Police. Then they lied to the nation that Pika had told the Police in Karonga that Kasambara was involved in the shooting of Paul Mphwiyo. Of course, they didn’t say how Pika knew of that fact.

A few hours later, they again fabricated another story that Pika had retracted his exclusive statement to the media that JB had collected, in United States Dollars, fifty (50%) percent of the cashgate loot. They said Pika was now saying he had been forced by Kasambara to make those statements.

That was until Pika — through his lawyer — set the record straight. He put it on record that since he landed into the country the Police, through non other than the Deputy Inspector General Nelson Bophani, had been putting pressure on him to implicate Kasambara in exchange of favours. To date, Deputy Inspector General Bophani himself has not denied this fact. Apparently, he cannot.

Another twist to this sordid tale: Gani, the Police Officer who served as Kasambara’s VIP Protection Officer put it on court record that the Regional Criminal Investigations Officer, one Makwinja, threw him into police cell and later charged him with the offence of attempted murder after he had refused to implicate Kasambara.

His story is that the Police are forcing him to fabricate the narrative that Kasambara borrowed his already loaded gun and used it to shoot Paul Mphwiyo. Interestingly, Police records show that Gani surrendered to the Police the exact number of bullets that he was assigned with, when he reported back to headquarters following Kasambara’s dismissal from cabinet. Again, Gani’s gun was not unique in the Malawi Police Service as several police officers have similar guns. Which makes it not very smart for the police to claim that since his gun uses the same type of bullets as those allegedly removed from Mpwhiyo’s body, then it must be the smoking gun, despite the fact that it has not been fired in awhile and all bullets signed out have been duly accounted for!

The question then is why has so much interest been exhibited by the PP and the government (both headed by JB) to have Kasambara prosecuted and jailed for the shooting of Paul Mphwiyo?

Paradoxically, three people were initially arrested by the Police for shooting Mphwiyo. In the sworn Affidavit of one of the men, it is in black and white that Oswald Lutepo (a senior PP official now charged with looting K4 Billion from government) hired him and his two arrested colleagues to shoot Paul Mphwiyo. The authenticity of that Affidavit has not been challenged by anyone to date. Surprisingly, the police has done everything within its powers to make sure that Lutepo is not charged with the crime, despite having, earlier, put him on wanted list for the same.

To add to the drama, JB had herself told the nation that she knew who shot Mphwiyo; that it was someone against Mphwiyo’s “fight against corruption and fraud”. She later recanted at a press conference at Sanjika Palace, where her display of backpedaling skills were not very convincing. In the end, it does not require one to be a rocket scientist to know that we are dealing with a case of state deception here and that the President, willfully, lied to the nation.

But here is another twist to this sordid tale: Well, before cashgate became public knowledge, senior PP officials including Lutepo and  Ephraim Chivunde (both close associates of Joyce Banda) had approached Kasambara to use his influence to stop investigations by the Anti-corruption Bureau (ACB) into their affairs. They told Kasambara it was the president who had sent them, since ACB fell under him at the Ministry of Justice. But Kasambara refused to intervene. From there on, the battle lines were drawn and Kasambara was a marked man.

Various allegations were levelled against him within the party, including one where it was said that he was the one influencing the media to push Joyce Banda to declare her assets. The other famous allegation was that it was Kasambara who was giving out information to one Joshua Chisa Mbele, Bright Malopa, Nyasa Times and others to attack JB and her family on the source of their sudden wealth.

When cashgate blew up, JB and her handlers attempted to distance herself and her family from the stolen loot, which, by all accounts, they indeed were receiving a percentage of. That explains JB’s statement at the famous Sanjika Palace press conference on her return from the UN General Assembly where she stated unashamedly, that those who had received any of the stolen money were not in the wrong.

That statement was unfortunate as it was shocking. The Penal Code of Malawi stipulates that it is an offence to receive property suspected to have been stolen. Now, if a civil servant with no other known sources of income donated K200 million to you, surely you should know or be aware that it is more likely than not that it is dubious money. Receiving such a “donation” is, in actual fact, commission of an offence.

As the ACB closed in on corrupt circles in the PP, Kasambara was accused of betraying the party by not ‘helping’ senior party officials under investigation. He was even accused of setting the ACB dogs on his own colleagues. And for that reason, Kasambara had to go. Opportunity came knocking on PP’s door when Mphwiyo was shot in an incident with the hallmarks of a big money deal gone bad. The PP and JB-aligned government machinery immediately jumped at this opportunity to bury Kasambara. But it hasn’t come to be as both Pika Manondo and Gani (Kasambara’s former police bodyguard) have so far refused to be coerced to implicate an innocent man. As it stands, all that we have in black and white is the sworn Affidavit by Principal State witness, which solidly implicates Lutepo in the shooting.

But they are not stupid, they know what they are doing these PP people.

Their first strategy is that for as long as Kasambara is locked away, JB can placate public anger by claiming to be doing something about cashgate. This then will divert the heat from her own culpability and that of her family and associates. We have seen this before, haven’t we? While Bingu had the nation fixated on Bakili Muluzi’s K1.4 billion case, he was carting away a cool K61 billion for himself.

Secondly, this attempted murder case will likely drag on and on. In the process, they hope to have destroyed Kasambara’s reputation and standing in society so that whatever he might say regarding his knowledge of what was actually going on will be treated as sour grapes of a disgruntled man.

Thirdly, they hope that by the time Kasambara is acquitted or case is discontinued, the country would have voted in the 2014 Tripartite Elections and they would be back in power to continue with their grand schemes.

But all that is based on two assumption, firstly, that they have considered all factors and, secondly, that they will remain in control of everything. Unfortunately, life always has one card up its sleeve. If history has taught us anything is that it is not possible to consider all factors and that no one is ever in perpetual control of things. The previous government thought that they had considered everything and were in control of everything as they unleashed a succession plan, thinking there was nothing that could stop them, that come 2014 Bingu would hand over power to his brother, Peter. They forgot to include one important element in their plan. God.

Guilty or not, the way PP and JB has sacrificed Kasambara on the Cashgate alter smacks of a government cover up that assumes that everything and everyone is and will, forever, remain under their control. But will they?

Well, let us wait and see as this movie called CashGate continues to unfold. The setting has been established, characters defined, plot established. Act One – The Fall Out has established laid out the facts. Now let us wait and see what happens in Act Two – The Betrayal. Will the deals made by the police with Mphwiyo and other party stalwarts in an attempt to pin everything on Kasambara hold? Will this be the act in which skeletons will start walking out of JB’s cupboard? Or will her foreign public relations team continue to hoodwink the world into believing that JB is in fact an anti-corruption crusader? Will Kasambara continue to remain silent?

Well, let us fasten our seat belts and cross check with a strong tag on belt just to make sure the seat belt is secured. For what will follow is one heck of a roller coaster ride.

Prepare to be rocked, people as Nyasa Times will be giving more exclusives.

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