SOBO, Savjani named in K25 million in court scam

Malawi’s giant drinks maker Southern Bottlers (SOBO) and the country’s largest law firm Savjani & Company have been named in a scandal of bribing a Magistrate in order to secure a guilty verdict in a case where 10 people were accused of defrauding SOBO about K32 million.

In a letter addressed to the Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo dated August 2, 2012, relations of the jailed people allege that their relatives were jailed for five years each but suspect that there were some suspected corrupt activities between the Magistrate handling the case and the two companies.

The letter alleges that their relatives were arrested in 2010 after Sobo complained of a K32 million fraud and Savjani & Company were hired by Sobo to prosecute the case instead of the Police.

Munlo: Letter addressed to him for action

The relatives of the convicts also allege that Sobo paid Savjani legal fees amounting to K25 million and they had to justify the amount with a guilty verdict.

“They were all arrested in 2010 after SOBO complained that these people had stolen money worth K32, 000, 000.00 (Thirty Two Million Kwacha).  Sobo hired Savjani & Company lawyers to do the case for them and not police.  This case was in early days heard at the Mzuzu Court by a magistrate who went away and left the case to another magistrate, Mr. Msisha.  In May this year, after a long time, the magistrate judged our relatives wrong and sent all of them to prison for 5 years,” reads the letter in part.

“We heard rumours of certain wrong activities between the magistrate and SOBO and Savjani & Company.  We heard these from well wishers at Mzuzu High Court who heard some court officials in the case bragging about the treatment they got from Sobo and Savjani & Company during the case.

“We heard that because SOBO had paid Savjani & Company around K25, 000, 000.00(yes, a cool Twenty Five Million Kwacha as their bill to do the case for them and yet they, Savjani, did not recover even a single tambala for Sobo at the end of the case) to complete the case. We have copies of this payment from well-wishers at Sobo. They were desperate to win the case whatever the case,” reads the letter in part.

The relatives also allege that Sobo and Savjani & Company gave the Magistrate and a Court Clerk a Mr Mlungu some crates of soft drinks while the case was in progress.

“Secondly, the case was also conducted at Sobo in Blantyre on one day.  The magistrate and the clerk travelled all the way to Blantyre. We came to learn that on that visit, the magistrate and his clerk was told that in the next coming days, they could go to Mzuzu depot and collect more drinks in crates and that the managers there had already been told,” reads the letter in part.

“On the same day and occasion, Sobo and Savjani & Company gave the magistrate and the clerk a sum of K95, 000.00 (Ninety Five Thousand Kwacha) as fuel allowance.  And yet it was not the responsibility of Savjani & Company and Sobo to give money to the magistrate or anyone when the case was not finished.  Also, the magistrate and clerk went to Blantyre by bus and not car, so what about the “fuel allowance”?” reads part of the letter.

“You may wish to be told, sir, that even on this day when the case happened in Blantyre, only two of the ten people answering the case (our relatives) managed to travel to Blantyre for the case because the rest had no transport money.  Why did Savjani and Sobo not offer them transport as well?” reads the letter.

The relatives also allege that Savjani & Company and Sobo officials used to phone and meet the presiding magistrate in private while the case was in session.

“Does it mean that justice in Malawi is now for the rich companies only?  A poor man has nothing? Justice must be seen to be done! And it is for this reason that we think appealing is a waste of time because Sobo and Savjani & Company will just splash their money and drinks around,” reads the letter.

“We think the magistrate judged against our relatives just to pay back to Savjani & Company and Sobo and not because our relatives were wrong.  Please relook at the judgment.  In fact, come to think of it, a mere 5 year’s jail for “stealing” a whopping K32, 000, 000.00? We cry for Malawian lawyers and courts!” reads the letter which has been copied to Malawi law Society, media houses, Ministry of Justice, Board Chairman for Sobo  professor Matthews Chikaonda, Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and the Office of the President and Cabinet.

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