Karonga first grade magistrate Tabman Chakaka Nyirends has released on bail nine police officers arrested for allegedly soliciting bribes from drivers and unscrupulous traders who have been smuggling maize out of the country through Karonga district.
The cops were arrested last month. They were entrusted to man Kaporo and North Rukuru roadblocks to check against the illegal maize exports to East Africa but they instead side-stepped their mandate by receiving money from the illicit traders.
Granting bail on Monday, Magistrate Chakaka Nyirenda imposed conditions that the nine cops should be their own sureties through a cash deposit of K20,000 each.
The men in uniform pleaded not guilty to the accusations of soliciting bribes..
They will appear again in court for hearing on May 16.
Malawi has tightened its border controls to stop profiteers smuggling much-needed maize out of the country in search of higher prices.
Months of drought had left more than a third of the population reliant on food aid, and the government has invoked the Special Crops Act, which bans the export of some crops.
The government deployed soldiers to seal its porous borders with Tanzania and Zambia, and impounded trucks that are smuggling out the staple crop in pursuit of more profit.
Malawi police have also been searching vehicles on roads that lead to the borders.
The size of the trucks stopped by the police suggests that large-scale traders may be involved.
Malawian farmers are required to sell their surplus to local vendors and traders. Traders resell it across the country, or to the National Food Reserve Agency, which stores maize and releases it mainly in response to humanitarian crises.
Traders can only export maize, the country’s main staple crop, if they have special clearance from the government. Such clearance has not been granted since 2008, when Malawi started experiencing a downturn in its harvests.
Maize smuggled to Zambia and Tanzania – from where it can be sold to other countries – fetches higher prices than at home.
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