At least eight Malawian crooks trading as legal practitioners are facing a chop and disbarment from the legal profession over fraud and for embezzling over K128 million of clients funds including deceased estate money, the country's Attorney General has said.
Malawi's Attorney General, who is also the government's chief legal advisor, Dr. Chikosa Silungwe says his office is ready to push the matter through the courts so the fraudulent lawyers can be plucked out of the profession and be binned.
Said Silungwe: "The office of the Attorney General is now ready to file summons where we shall pray to the Chief Justice for disbarment of eight errant legal practitioners."
Silungwe said it will not be far from now that his office will swiftly act on the errant lawyers but the country's top lawyer could not be drawn into giving out the names of the delinquent lawyers.
The law does not sanction the AG to suspend a legal practitioner but that power is vested in the Disciplinary Committee by virtue of Section 96(1)(b) of the Lelpa or the Chief Justice by virtue of Section 89(1)(b) of the Legal Education and Legal Practitioners Act of 2017 (Lelpa)
However, Section 89(1) of the Lelpa allows the office of the AG to make an application to the High Court for the suspension of a lawyer.
"We are unable to disclose the names of the legal practitioners at this time," said Silungwe.
The offices of Attorney General (AG) and the Inspector General of Police (IG) were summoned by the Malawi Law Society (MLS) with some solid recommendations to disbar at least eight fraudulent lawyers.
Nyasa Times understands that The MLS Disciplinary Committee made recommendations to the AG and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to admonish, suspend and institute criminal proceedings against the indicted lawyers who were found guilty between March 2020 and January this year.
The offending lawyers include those who are accused of allegedly embezzling over K128 million of clients' funds which, MLS through its independent disciplinary committee, ordered to be restituted.
Apparently, the MLS committee recommended to the AG to suspend and admonish the lawyers while the DPP was supposed to institute criminal proceedings against others pursuant to Section 96 (1) (e)of the Lelpa.
However, neither the AG nor the DPP has acted on the individuals, therefore cementing the public perception that suspected mischievous legal practitioners are protected and generally not being dealt with decisively when they break the law.
The MLS Disciplinary Committee is headed by the Solicitor General, who is also Secretary for Justice, in accordance with Section 90(2)(a) of the Lelpa.
The committee is established by the Legal Education and Legal Practitioners under Section 90 and has powers to inquire into the conduct of legal practitioners at the request of the High Court and on a complaint made by any person.
MLS honorary secretary Chrispin Ngunde said in an interview with a local paper said the society's executive committee had not yet received any communication from the AG or the Disciplinary Committee on actions taken on suspected fraudulent lawyers.
"I think at an appropriate time, the Attorney General or the Disciplinary Committee will communicate to MLS on the steps taken following the recommendations," he said.
Both the MLS honorary secretary and AG could not be drawn to divulge minute particulars of the accused and blacklisted legal practitioners.
"MLS is not in a position to disclose the names of the concerned legal practitioners; I think the Solicitor General is may be a suitable person to give such details but, alternatively, the Attorney General may be able to provide the said details," said Ngunde.
'Ethos and integrity'
According to a report from the MLS Disciplinary Committee, as at February 15, 2021, the committee had ordered restitution of K128.3 million against the pilfering lawyers in overwhelming 49 disciplinary matters.
Out of the K128.3 million, about K77.1 million had been paid back to clients in 24 matters leaving an outstanding balance of K51.1 million in 25 matters.
"The disciplinary committee continues to sit and hear matters relating to various infractions on the part of legal practitioners. Rules of natural justice are strictly observed throughout the process," said the AG.
On starting criminal proceedings against the alleged fraudulent lawyers the DPP's office has also not moved the courts; hence, the Malawi Police Service (MPS) is also yet to generate a case docket.
By law, after the Disciplinary Committee's recommendation, the DPP writes Inspector General (IG) of MPS to probe the matter and prepare a docket for prosecution by the DPP.
Among others, the docket is supposed to contain witnesses' statements (complainants' statements), police report, caution and evidence of arrest.
Police Inspector General Dr. George Kainja in an interview, confirmed his office was yet to act on the matter because he had not received any communication from the DPP on the matter.
"I have not received any communication of that nature. It has not reached my office otherwise I would have remembered," said police chief.
However, Nyasa Times has established that Director of Public Prosecution Dr. Steven Kayuni advised the police to institute investigations in January 2021
"It has to be noted that lawyers operate on a position of trust with ethos and integrity that the profession adheres to and postulates.
"Pursuant to the above cited law [Section 96(1)(e) of Lelpa 2017] and the MLS recommendation herein, my office writes your esteemed good office to quickly institute investigations (case docket preparation) into the alleged conduct," reads part of a communication signed by Kayuni dated January 2, 2021 with reference number DPP/ADMN/IG/2021/1 addressed to the Inspector General and copied to Attorney General.
According to the AG, the DPP is scheduled to institute criminal investigations against two lawyers of whom one is already serving a prison sentence after being convicted on a different matter.
In March 2018, Fiscal Police in Blantyre arrested private practice lawyer David Kanyenda for allegedly embezzling K5.8 million in client's money which included legal fees.
Kanyenda was again also arrested for reportedly to have swindled MK65 million meant for his clients.
In November 2020 The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) announced its intention to soon start prosecuting private practice lawyer, Frank Mbeta for his alleged bribery charges dating as far back as to 2015.
Mbeta is alleged offered money to a Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) information and communication technology (ICT) security manager Wilson Upindi to erase information from computers that were confiscated from a tax evasion suspect.
On 7th December 2020, ACB pounced on Mzuzu based lawyer Leonard Mbulo over attempts to bribe a magistrate - the lawyer is said to have received K600, 000 from his client on the pretext that the magistrate was the money.