Giant corruption trial kicks off in Malawi

2014-01-30 07:32
Malawi President Joyce Banda. (File, AFP)

Malawi President Joyce Banda. (File, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Blantyre - A senior Malawian civil servant and two construction executives went on trial for corruption on Wednesday, the first of dozens charged in the biggest financial scandal in Malawi's history.

Known as "cashgate", the case has led to charges against 68 state employees and executives accused of looting government funds to the tune of more than $20m.

Leonard Kalonga, who was chief accountant in the tourism ministry, is accused of defrauding the government through the unauthorised purchase of six luxury buses worth $1.3m. The buses were not meant for government use and it remains unclear what he planned to do with them.

Two directors of a construction company - Caroline Savala and Agnes Katengeza - also appeared accused of alleged theft and money laundering after they received payment from government without building anything.

The cases were adjourned to a later date.

"We have been looking for answers, and the answers can be found through the court proceedings," Information Minister Brown Mpinganjira told AFP as the hearings kicked off.

"I pray that they'll go fast so that Malawians can finally know what happened," he added.

So far authorities have tracked $20m in stolen state funds, said Mpinganjira, with rumours the final figure could be as high as $100m.

In some instances officials allegedly used a central government computer payment system to transfer money to ghost firms for supposed services. They then deleted the companies' information from the system.

Loopholes in payments system

The opening on Wednesday of the first trial in the case, which comes ahead of elections in May, drew a huge public turnout despite heavy rain.

The scandal led to the suspension of around $150m in foreign aid and has threatened President Joyce Banda's political career in an election year.

Banda has acted swiftly to restore her government's image, sacking her entire cabinet late last year and setting up an investigation into the allegations, which mostly implicate officials in her ruling People's Party.

These include the party's most senior official as well as Ralph Kasambara, a former justice minister arrested for money-laundering and conspiracy to murder after a corruption-busting official was shot outside his house last year.

Banda faces three prominent male election contenders including Peter Mutharika, a brother of the late president, during elections on 20 May.

Previously vice president, she came to power in 2012 following the sudden death of president Bingu wa Mutharika.

Her government has blamed "loopholes" in the payment system introduced when the late president started his term for the massive looting of public funds.

Prosecutors have said up to 30% of the poor southern African country's resources are plundered annually.

More arrests are expected when a probe backed by Britain and the European Union is completed, according to Mpinganjira.

"Everybody is waiting for the forensic audit report which will have good evidence of what happened and who was involved," he said.

Read more on:    joyce banda  |  bingu wa mutharika  |  malawi  |  southern africa

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.