'Anti-graft crusader' arrested in Malawi

Blantyre - A former Malawian civil servant once hailed as an anti-graft crusader has been charged along with 16 other officials in the country's widening "Cashgate" scandal, a court spokesperson said Thursday.

The multi-million-dollar scandal prompted foreign donors - who provide around 40% of impoverished Malawi's budget - to pull the plug on aid worth around $150m.

Paul Mphwiyo, the former budget director at the finance ministry, was among 17 suspects charged with a raft of graft offences and theft of $4m in the Cashgate affair, which originated in 2005.

Mphwiyo was shot outside his house and badly injured two years ago when he was reported to be about to expose a network of corrupt officials.

He was previously credited with overhauling the public finance system to close loopholes that allowed fraud, and for cancelling dubious government contracts.

"Mphwiyo and his co-accused are yet to enter a plea and he remains in police custody," a high court official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Mphwiyo was first arrested last year, before being released without charge.

An audit by British experts ordered by then president Joyce Banda found that $30m had been looted in a period of less than six months in 2013 while Mphwiyo was in the powerful position of budget director.

In September, Oswald Lutepo, the chief suspect in the fraud, was sentenced to 11 years in jail.

Lutepo accused Banda of masterminding the scam to syphon off money from government coffers through ghost companies.

The scandal helped push Banda, who has denied any wrong-doing, out of power at last year's elections.

Current President Peter Mutharika has vowed to tackle corruption and pleaded for foreign donor nations to support the country.

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