Convicted cashgate businessman Osward Lutepo has expressed his unreserved bitterness over his lengthy custodial sentence unleashed on him, accusing State prosecutors of using him , saying they were only desperate to represent to the world that government was making progress when in fact they want to victimise a few individuals.
Lutepo has also not spared the medical doctor who wrote his medical report presented during the trial which indicated his wheelchair ride has no basis of him not being unfit and unwell.
“I accept that my involvement to cashgate has affected many Malawians,” said Lutepo as he starts his 11 years jail term at Mikuyu Prison in Zomba.
Lutepo blames the State prosecutors – Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) deputy director Reyneck Matemba and Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Mary Kachale of using him “to exaggerate the outcome of the case which has actually worked to their advantage.”
“In this case, it shows that a few of us are going to pay for the sins of many,” said Lutepo.
He again said he was also used in the cashgate affair.
“ The outcome of the case portrays me as the worst sinner and yet I was only used as a conduit,” said Lutepo.
But Matemba dismissed Lutepo’s claims of foul play as “baseless”.
During the cashgate trial, Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale while practising as private lawyer representing 27-year-old Victor Sithole, who was convicted for being in possession of large amounts of money, including $31 800 and 122 400 South African rand in hard cash, exposed Lutepo’s damaged credibility.
Lutepo had testified against Sithole on behalf of State when he told the Lilongwe Magistrate’s court that former Minister of Justice Ralph Kasambara forced him to sign court documents to claim that the k122 million cash found in Sithole’s possession belonged to him.
He said he knew Kasambara as his legal adviser although he mostly dealt with another lawyer Wapon Kita, who worked in Kasambara’s law firm.
But in cross-examination Kaphale, faulted Lutepo’s testimony on the grounds that as an educated man with Business Empire and legally exposed, Lutepo could not be pressured to sign for court documents knowing the legal implications of such an action.
“Are you an idiot Mr Lutepo?” Kaphale quizzed Lutepo, a former Peoples Party official.
The lawyer questioned Lutepo’s integrity saying his actions and statement were not befitting that of a holder of a master of business administration and a graduate of University of Malawi.
Kaphale called Lutepo “stupid” saying he could not be have succeeded to own businesses such as Naming’omba Tea Estate ad Woget which are worth billions of kwacha with such type of “stupidity”
“Can you confirm to the court that the minister of justice was not your superior, or your business partner, cousin or your uncle? If lam to give you book and tell you to go to court and tell them it’s yours, would you do it?” Kaphale quizzed Lutepo.
Lutepo replied in the negative to all questions, insisting “I signed the documents because I was under pressure from Minister [Kasambara]”.
The cashgate convict also claimed to reporters that he was used by former president Joyce Banda as a conduit in the cashgate.
He had placed his hopes of smearing Banda as a bargaining tactic to avoid custodial sentence.
Lutepo also said that the medical report about him presented in court was not a true reflection of his health status, arguing that the one who wrote it was aware that he would not be cross examined in court and had nothing to fear about or lose.
He told journalists that the nurses who were attending to him were better placed to tell his health condition.
The free speaking Lutepo also claimed that the judgment given to him was influenced by other factors and that the Judge ignored some relevant facts in sentencing him, further claiming that the Judge might have done that just to “make a name”.
Lutepo has been convicted on two counts of money laundering and conspiracy to defraud MK 4.2 billion from government coffers in the infamous Malawi cash-gate scandal.
He has, however, stated that he will cooperate to tell the nation the truth so that everybody involved is brought before justice.
Lutepo joins other high profile convicts in hen names of former Tourism Principal Secretary Teresa Senzani and his Assistant Director Leonard Kalonga.
Before the judgment, lawyer for the accused, Oswald Ntupila, argued in that his client deserves a lenient sentence because he was a first offender, has been remorseful and cooperative to give information that will assist to arrest and prosecute beneficiaries in the ongoing cash-gate investigations.
The defence counsel also said the judge should consider Lutepo because of his restitution of his companies valued at MK380 Million but the prosecution team led by Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Mary Kachale, counter argued that Lutepo rather deserved stiff punishment because of the nature of the offence.
The prosecution team said that the offence of money laundering was a serious one considering that it has led to social and economic hardships on innocent Malawians with shortage of drugs in hospitals due to underfunding as a result of cash-gate.
The state was looking up to 10 years as being fit for Lutepo.
The Judge said that going by the parliamentary proceeding record, it was clear that cash gate has an impact on the Malawi economy and that it has shrunk.
He also noted that the case in which Lutepo was answering was a major serious one, since he had gone through many African and Malawian law reports and judgments and never found a case of money laundering of that magnitude in terms of the money involved.
The Court observed that Lutepo was a major player in the cash-gate which had two categories; including the highly strategically positioned politicians and secondly the top civil servants and business persons, selfish and greedy who had formed the criminal enterprise network to defraud government resources at the expense of poor Malawians, as such required a befitting sentencing.
The judge observed Lutepo voluntarily joined the criminal enterprise although he was educated and a successful business man adding that he could not consider his plea of guilty as genuine because it was not done at the onset of the case and had also made some applications showing resisting to guilty of the case.
The court pointed out that the accused had feigned insanity that government had to spend to call for a psychiatric to test him a thing he said was a waste of time and resources which nullifies his argument on plea of guilty.
The judge also said that Lutepo has failed to provide evidence on his health status, where he has been confined to a chair and reading his medical report details from a hospital expert where he was attended, it indicate Lutepo was able to wear his trousers a sign that he had power and strength in his legs.
But Lutepo told journalists that the medical report was not accurate as the doctor who wrote the report based his findings on verbal interrogation and not physical outlook because the doctor had never attended to him.
The court, however, gave credit to Lutepo for being bold and bravery to reveal the names of the beneficiaries of the cash-gate money especially politicians in court which the Judge said could not be revealed in court but the state can take further action from the records to bring the culprits mentioned to book.
When passing the Judgement Redson Kapindu said MK 4.2 billion involved in Lutepo matter was unquestionably so huge that the case was unprecedented in money laundering criminal cases in the country.
“The case has bad dent on society. Public pulse severely squeezed and there will be long effects on output and employment, prices exchange rates, interest rates resulting in shrunk economy and most importantly Malawians are those suffering now at the expense of few cash-gate beneficiaries,” the learned Judge said.
Kapindu also observed that the state is now investing money on trials and upgrading the IFMIS and worse still the public service delivery have collapsed due to cash-gate consequences.
Therefore, he said without withstanding the convicts’ plea of guilty and other arguments the punishment that was fit was the custodial in order to give lesson to others who may be involved in very huge money and even support terrorism in future.
Judge Kapindu sentenced Lutepo to 8 years Imprisonment with Hard labour on money laundering offence contrary to section 35 (1) C of Money Laundering and Terrorism Act and on second count of Conspiracy to defraud contrary section 323 of the penal code, a maximum of 3 years totaling to 11 years in prison for Lutepo.–Additional reporting by Zawadi Chilunga, Nyasa TimesFollow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :