7 March 2018

Malawi: Chaponda's Shaft of Light in Court - ACB Lead Investigator Changes Tune, Says No Basis for Arrest

The last State witness in the case involving former Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda and two others has told Zomba Magistrate Court that there was no enough evidence to arrest Chaponda.

ACB Principal Investigator Eston Kankwete was giving his testimony before Zomba Magistrate Paul Chiotcha on Tuesday afternoon.

As head of the investigating team, Kankwete took the court through the whole investigation both in Malawi and Zambia.

Kankwete said he suspected foul play between Chaponda and and his co-accused Rashid Tayub of Transglobe Produce Limited after noting that Transglobe had donated 600 bags of maize flour weighing six kilograms each to the first accused in March 2016, which was later donated to an orphanage in his constituency.

"There was also constant communication between the two which raised eyebrows," he said.

Kankwete tendered two e-mail communications between Davie Tayub and Rashid Tayub reminding the later of the maize flour donation and another one which Tayub send toChaponda with a business card attachment of Zambia Agriculture Principal Secretary.

He also cited some meetings which the Tayub family had with former Admarc Chief Executive Officer Foster Mulumbe and Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe

"At one such meetings, Mulumbe told them that Admarc can not offer them a contract because they had already signed one with Zambia Cooperative Federation (ZCF)," he said.

Asked to by lead prosecutor MacMillan Chakhala to name specific incidents showing that there was corrupt attempts in that transactions, Kamkete cited calls from Chaponda to Mulumbe asking for the updates on the offer by Transglobe and some visits by Transglobe to Ministry of Finance.

"I was also told by Mulumbe that Dr Chaponda was pressurizing him to offer Transglobe the contract," he said.

He, however, confirmed that at that time, ZCF was failing to deliver maize and due to pressure goverent had on the imminent hunger, Transglobe was the only company with Zambian permit to export maize from the neighboring country into Malawi.

The ACB investigator also told the court that ZCF CEO James Chirwa told him that Zambia Minister of Agriculture allocated them to export 50 000 metric tones of maize with the other 50 000 tones to be exported by Transglobe.

However, the dimension of the whole testimony changed when Dr Chaponda's lawyer Tamando Chokhotho took the floor.

Quized by defence lawyers if he knew that between March and April 2016 Chaponda was not Minister of Agriculture but of Foreign Affairs, that Transglobe has never traded with Ministry of Foreign affairs and that Chaponda had no prior knowledge that he will be moved to Agriculture ministry, Kamkwete answered yes.

"Are you aware that the maize flour donation was made during Eid Festive season?"

"No."

"You know that good willing Muslims give to people during that period?"

"Yes."

"So people should donate without being labeled corrupt not so?"

"Yes"

"Between April and October the first accused (Dr Chaponda) was into Malawi and Zambia transaction and not Malawi and Transglobe transaction, not so?"

"Yes."

"Do you have physical evidence that Dr Chaponda instructed Mulumbe to give a contract to Transglobe?"

"No."

Asked what he could have done if he was a minister of agriculture caught in such circumstances when the company that was awarded a contract was failing to supply maize while there was a company within the country which can export maize from Zambia, Kamkwete said he could have opted to use the local company since the country was in dire need of the maize.

He also said it was not wrong for Transglobe to do follow ups on the offer put to ministry of finance and agriculture.

Kamkwete also told the court that he was not aware that there was a contract between Transglobe and ZCF on business.

"Apart from the maize flour donation and following up on Transglobe offer, what else made you suspect and arrest the first accused. Based on the information you have tendered before court, do you any basis to arrest the first accused on the maize purchase issue?" quizzed defence lawyer Tamando Chokhotho.

"I don't think so," he answered.

Taking his turn, lawyer for the second accused (Tayub) Jai Banda reminded Kamkwete that the accused played no role in any negotiations or transactions on the purchase of the maize but he father.

"Why did you arrest someone who was not active during all the meetings and leave out those who took part?" quizzed Banda

"Because he was like the leader since all was responsible for signing documents," he answered.

"So he was arrested because he signed documents?"

"Yes"

"So should we say the whole minister was bribed by three tones of maize flour?"

"We can say that?"

"And you have already agreed that the donation was done when he was minister of foreign affairs and not agriculture?"

"Yes"

"And that Transglobe is into agricultural business that has nothing to do with ministry of foreign affairs?"

"Yes"

"Is it wrong for a member of parliament to approach companies for assistance in a particular constituency?"

"No"

"Mulumbe told this court that he was never instructed by the first accused to offer a contract to Transglobe, and you said he told you that the first accused instructed him to offer the contract, between you and Mulumbe, who should this court believe?"

"Mr Mulumbe"

When asked by Chakhala to clarify why he said going by his testimony, there was no valid reasons to arrested the two accused, Kamkwete said he said so because he was pressured by the defence.

Chaponda, Tayub and Grace Mijiga-Mhango, a businessperson and chairperson of the Grain Traders and Processors Association of Malawi (GTPA), were arrested by the ACB for their alleged suspicious roles in the deal.

Meanwhile, the case has been adjourned to April 9 for oral submissions.

However, magistrate Chiotcha has given the defence team up to March 21 to submit written submissions to the court, and the State to respond to the same by April 4.

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