Malawi: Mutharika Claims Is Victim of Fraud, Corruption - Chunara Witness in K5bn 'Cementgate'

Former president Peter Mutharika (file photo).
24 October 2020

Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) is turning businessperson Shafee Ahmed Chunara--arrested in connection with the cement importation saga-- to become prosecution witness against former president Peter Mutharika's security aide Norman Chisale on charges linked to alleged abuse of duty-free status of a sitting president.

The 36-year-old entrepreneur was arrested and charged with fraud in which he was accused of importing 800 000 bags of cement using deceitful or fraudulent means without paying duty worth K5 billion.

His second offence was of money laundering contrary to Section 331A (a) of the Penal Code in which he was accused of engaging himself directly or indirectly in the importation of 800 000 bags of cement without paying duty.

However, the State feels Chunara would best be a prosecution witness in the matter having studied his witness statements and affidavits.

Powell Nkhutabasa, the lawyer representing Chunara, said the owner of Prestige Imports and Exports, maintains his innocence in the matter.

Chunara reportedly told the police "the truth" on how he got the cement.

Police also arrested former Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) deputy commissioner general Roza Mbilizi in connection with cement-gate scandal.

Before Mutharika was ousted from power in the June 23 fresh presidential election, State House and MRA on June 16 justified the transaction as "within the law", as it was for personal use.

However, Mutharika on Friday at a news conference in Mangochi categorically denied instructing his personal bodyguard Chisale to import cement from Zambia and Zimbabwe using the duty-free status that presidents enjoy to import goods for personal use.

"I had no idea. I mean, look behind you, I have not finished that part of my premises because I do not have cement," said Mutharika at his beachside private retirement home - christened as Nyekhwe Palace.

"If I had all those millions of bags of cement, do you think I would still be struggling to complete the house?" he said.

Mutharika - a law professor - appeared to be distancing himself from the cement-gate, paying way for his personal legal defence, arguing he is a victim of identity fraud.

He said the cement importation controversy is a tax evasion matter that has to be dealt as such between Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) and whoever brought the cement .

Mutharika said he is absolutely furious that authorities froze his bank accounts.

"I am a victim of fraud, yet I am the one being penalised. This is not fair," he said.

Mutharika wondered: "They know I never imported the cement. I have no knowledge, so why punish me."

The former president, who was ousted in power through a court-ordered fresh presidential elections when he lost to Lazarus Chakwera of the Tonse Alliance, said if he made mistakes in his six years in power , "they were errors of misjudgement, not out of evil."

On accusations that he presided over a corrupt government, Mutharika said corruption has always been there "even in biblical times" and is still rearing its ugly head in the new administration.

"Cashgate {corruption scandal discovered in 2014 under the Joyce Banda administration] was the worst form of corruption.

"In this new administration [Tonse]; we have already started reading about corruption. It is not easy to control it, "he said.

Mutharika cited a report by former Director of Public Prosecution Fahad Assani, well before he came to power, that a third of Malawi's national budget is lost through fraud and corruption.

More From: Nyasa Times

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