The High Court in Lilongwe on Thursday found guilty former Malawi Ministry of Tourism principal secretary Treza Namathanga Senzani after she admitted that she, indeed, stole and laundered government funds amounting to K63 million (about $166 000).
Senzani becomes the first major convict in the plunder of billions from government coffers, dubbed Cashgate.
She admitted before Justice Ivy Kamanga that she knowingly got from Malawian taxpayers money, amounting to K63 million, without any intention of giving it back to the government.
After she pleaded guilty to the first count of theft, Kamanga asked her three times to enter plea, perhaps in disbelief that Senzani had pleaded guilty.
“Did you have lawful authority to take the money? When you were taking the money, did you intend to give it back to the Malawi Government?” Kamanga asked, to which Senzani replied: “No, my Lady.”
On the charge of money laundering, Senzani admitted that she had in her possession proceeds of crime amounting to K63 million knowing that it was stolen money.
“When this money was in your possession, did you know it represented stolen money? And you knew this money belonged to the Malawi Government?” Kamanga asked to which Senzani replied in affirmative.
After prosecutor Reyneck Matemba narrated the facts of the case, Kamanga said she had no choice but to find Senzani guilty of the charges levelled against her.
Matemba said ACB investigations in September, 2013 revealed that Senzani on two occasions obtained money from government through her company, Visual Impact, when it had no contract with government.
On August 16 2013, Senzani received K21 897 562.30 (about $60 000) from government which was deposited into the company’s National Bank of Malawi account at Capital City Branch on August 21 then, on August 26, she received a further K41 644 521 (about $109 590) from government which her husband deposited into the company’s account on the same day.
Senzani’s lawyer, Ted Roka, has since applied to the court to release his client on bail, pending sentencing and that the restriction notice on her bank accounts should be lifted.
He said she already gave back to government K2 million and an Area 47 house, title number Bwaila 42/5/258, valued at K61 million (about $160 526).
But Kamanga said vacation of the restriction order was premature.
“The matter is not concluded and the sentencing could include a fine, so the application is dismissed,” she said.
The case has been adjourned to September 15 for submissions on sentencing when the prosecution is expected to propose an appropriate sentence and the defence to respond with mitigating factors.