Former president Peter Mutharika on Tuesday demanded an explanation from the Anti -Corruption Bureau (ACB) for the offence he committed to warrant the graft busting body to interrogate him.
In his strongly-worded statement released on Tuesday, Mutharika accused ACB’s plan to interview him as continued persecution and harassment” intended to humiliate and taunt him psychologically.“
But ACB director general Martha Chizuma in an interview said her office had responded to Mutharika and vowed to proceed with the arranged caution interview today.
She said: “We will not comment anything on that suffice to say we have responded to the former president’s statement and we are waiting for a response.
However, we are proceeding to interview him tomorrow [today].”
The bureau plans to interview the former president as part of its ongoing investigation into the allegations of abuse of his taxpayer identification number (TPIN) when he was in power.
The matter relates to his aides unauthorised use of his TPIN in the importation of 800 000 bags of cement worth K5 billion from Zambia and Zimbabwe.
ACB also said the interview will be broader than the cement importation saga, including importation of property valued in billions of kwacha during his tenure as President.
Initially, ACB was scheduled to virtually interview Mutharika last week Tuesday but it was postponed to on Tuesday .
In his statement, Mutharika, who is also leader of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), said it was “extremely strange” for the bureau which has accusatorial and investigative powers to seek to interview him without disclosing the nature of the offences he was accused of.
“In view of the previous conduct of ACB towards me, I am reluctant to grant this interview… In my view, all this is a sustained political witch hunt by a State institution,” reads the statement in part.”
Mutharika also demanded that if the ACB proceeds to interview him, then every previous president and vice-president living must be called up as well to explain how their TPIN had been used.
“For the reasons given above and out of courtesy of your institution I will listen to your questions if you decide to proceed but will exercise my right to remain silent unless I am told if I have committed any offence.
“Thereafter, I will seek legal advice on how best to respond to the questions and it is only then that I may consider responding to all or any of your questions,” he challenged.
Mutharika’s lawyer Samuel Tembenu said in a separate interview they tried to enquire from ACB why they wanted to interrogate the former president without charging him or telling him the offences he committed, but have not been given a satisfactory answer.
He said: “In my view, it is a strange approach because all along he has been treated as a suspect especially when they froze his accounts.
“They, therefore, need to clarify whether he is a suspect or a witness. ACB are insisting on the interview despite his reluctance.”
Tembenu said they would like to see ACB clarifying the purpose of the interview, especially that they had previously asserted that Mutharika was a suspect.
“When they give that clarification, then he can handle the interview properly without incriminating himself,” he said.
But Malawi Law Society (MLS) said under Section 11(1)(d) of the Corrupt Practices Act (CPA), ACB has powers to require any person to provide any information, or to answer any question, in connection with an inquiry or investigation under the CPA.
MLS honorary secretary Chrispin Ngunde said in an interview the wording of the section suggests ACB can solicit information from any person including a person who is not a suspect.
“The notices to the general public that the ACB issued recently do not suggest that the former president is being requested to provide information in his capacity as a suspect.
“The notices show that he is being interviewed as part of the investigation that the ACB is conducting. In our view, the law does not require the former president to be charged first before he provides information to the ACB,” he said.
While urging Mutharika to cooperate with the ACB, Ngunde observed the bureau was investigating a specific complaint connected to his TPIN as such there was no basis for him to demand that former presidents and vice-presidents be called to also explain how their respective TPIN were used.
The former Malawi leader was also questioned under caution by the Fiscal Police in August last year and he immediately issued a statement distancing himself from involvement in the importation of the said cement.
The importation of the cement and alleged abuse of his TPIN led to the arrest of his personal bodyguard Norman Chisale and former Chief of Staff Peter Mukhito.