19 June 2017

Malawi: Chaponda Says He Is 'Prepared' for Arrest On Malawi 'Maizegate' Scandal - 'Let Them Prove Me Guilty'

Photo: Nyasa Times
Embattled Agriculture minister George Chaponda (file photo).

George Thapatula Chaponda the erstwhile Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development and Leader of the House has said he is prepared for his impending arrest over corruption element in Malawi's maize imports from Zambia.

Two state sponsored public inquiries recommended that Chaponda, who is alsp the vice president of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), should be investigated.

Graft busting body, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), has said Chaponda is under investigations and could be arrested.

Legal commentator based at South Africa's University of Cape Town, Professor Danwood Chirwa argued that Chaponda has "committed or is alleged to have committed a litany of legal infringements including flouting procurement law, gross negligence in the discharge of his public duties, perjury, arson, corruption and money laundering."

But there has been suspicions and accusations that Chaponda is being shielded from prosecution with commentators branding him a "sacred cow" in the fight against corruptiom.

In a political rally in his Mulanje South West constituency at Chonde in Mulanje on Sunday which was attended by ruling party gurus including secretary general Griselder Jeffrey wa Jeffrey, said he was ready and prepared to be arrested.

"I have been waiting to be arrested because people have been saying so," said Chaponda, a lawyer by profession.

He denies any wrong-doing.

Chaponda, flanked by DPP administrative secretary Francis Mphepho, said he is "still waiting" for his arrest.

"The law says you are innoncent until proved guilty, so I am not afraid, let them prove me guilty," said Chaponda.

Reyneck Matemba, the deputy director of the ACB said the bureau is still making forensic investigation of suitcases stashed with cash - US$58,000 and MK124 million seized at his house during the raid in February this year.

ACB raided Chaponda's residence following a recommendation by the commission of inquiry into Malawi's maize imports from Zambia that he should be investigated.

"You should understand that we are doing a a good job. We are still analysing how he got the money, we are analysing the electronic gadgets. We confiscated phones, ipads. Some of them had pass words, this delayed our investigations," he said.

Matemba said the ACB also confiscated similar items from suspects in the ongoing Zambia maize corruption saga.

The ACB second in command said his organisation is coming up with good charges for Chaponda.

"We are looking at analysis of forensic investigations. Forensic investigators took four days to crackdown on mobile phones [belonging to Chaponda]. There is progress, we need to come up with a very good case and good analysis and that is what we are doing now," he said .

"If we are to charge Dr Chaponda with existing currency exchange laws on the money we found in his house, then he could get away with very lenient sentence and the people would blame us for this. People should be patient. We cannot start to prosecute him in piece meal. We cannot start isolating cases," he said.

Matemba could however not say how soon the investigations would take. Asked recently on Capital Radio's Straight Talk program when ACB will summon Chaponda for questioning.

"At the bureau we do not just summon an accused person for questioning when we do not have basis. Being found with money in your house is not a criminal offence on its own," said Matemba who is also ACB prosecutor.

"We want to establish where the money we found from Chaponda came from. We will do our investigations. If we call Chaponda to the bureau before we conclude our investigations, people will think we are disorganised," he said.

Matemba continued: " We would rather finalise the investigations and invite him for questioning."

He said the bureau is workly closely with Reserve Bank of Malawi on the cash which was seized from Chaponda's residence.

"We have made tremendous progress [and] we will be inviting him to be questioniong. We are not shielding Chaponda," he said, adding "one aspect of investigation can lead tp another. We are about to conclude investigations."

But law experts say Chaponda has been afforded enough time and space to build his story, saying investigations could have gone ahead having interviewed him under caution which is not a presumption of guilt.

Chaponda justified why he is cash-rich after they confiscated at least K166 million stashed in suitcases at his house, saying he has worked for the United Nations (UN) for over 20 years and has his own investment..

He also submitted his assets declaration form to ACB which indicates he hold many bank accounts in foreign countries where he worked for UN.

A lists of assets Chaponda declared as of February 1, 2017 seen by Nyasa Times shows that he has 20 real estate properties in Lilongwe, Blantyre, France, Luchenza, Mangochi, Thyolo and Chiradzulu.

According to Chaponda declaration, the source of funds for the property, valued at K853 million, included bank loans and his earnings from the UN, United Kingdom, South Africa, France and his children abroad and Chaponda investments.

University of Malawi political scientist Boniface Dulani is in record saying that the decision to fire Chaponda from Cabinet was forced on President Peter Mutharika who would have maintained the minister if he had his way.

Dulani said the maizegate--just like Cashgate on Joyce Banda--will forever be associated with the Mutharika's regime.

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