No ‘votegate’, Malawi govt downplay fears over mysterious plane

State House chief of staff Ben Mbewe has downplayed fears by the opposition over the aircraft that landed at Chileka International Airport in the early hours of Saturday, saying there is nothing ‘votegate’ in it.

Nyasa Times reported on Sunday that a mysterious plane registration ZS-CAG, landed at Chileka on March 15 2014 from Nigeria’s Pointe Noire Airport.  The plane is operated by South African United Charter Services and had two pilots: Riccardo Talevi and Athas Karatzas, both South Africans.

The itinerary shows that the operator of Owenair (pty) Ltd is United Charter Services whose address is Lanseria International Airport (South Africa).

The plane that landed at Chileka
The plane that landed at Chileka

The aircraft carried one passenger, Ahmed Kassam, a 55-year-old Briton who was welcomed by State House officials.

Mbewe confirmed that his official vehicle, a driver and security picked up guests for the President, but said he did not have details of their visit.

“I have heard about me meeting the visitors, but it is not true [that there is anything fishy],” Mbewe is quoted in the press.

“We made arrangements to meet the visitors upon being requested to do so as we normally do that. My vehicle being used is nothing new. These people had an appointment with President Joyce Banda and flew out after the meeting.” said Mbewe.

He said the visitor’s appointment and meeting with the President Joyce Banda were all normal.

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) raised eyebrows over the aircraft, suspecting a vote-rigging consultation. The party also wondered how this particular plane was permitted to land at Chileka, the very airport which government announced a few hours later on Sunday to have closed for flights for two weeks because of potholes.

President of the United Democratic Front (UDF) Atupele Muluzi said there are plenty of rumours about alleged attempts by the ruling People’s Party (PP) to rig the forthcoming elections.

But Muluzi said: “It is not going to work. We are not sleeping in opposition and we know what is happening. We do not know what the aircraft was carrying. We are monitoring closely.”

Recently, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) asked the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to take People’s Party (PP) to task for allegedly tampering with voter certificates in the maize distribution exercise.

MEC chief elections officer Willie Kalonga on Monday said both the electorate and people who get certificates have to be arrested as giving and keeping someone’s certificate is a criminal offence.

Kalonga said such complaints have been coming to MEC, but the police are the rightful authority to deal with the matter.

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