Former president Bakili Muluzi’s clearance from a K1.7 billion corruption case has raised fresh queries with Malawi Law Society (MLS) seeking a detailed clarification from Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Masauko Chamkakala on the justification.
In a letter dated June 16 2023 signed by its president Patrick Mpaka, MLS has asked the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament to facilitate the process, stating that at the time the DPP discontinued the case, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) had, a week earlier on May 21 2023, issued and lodged with the court a list of 29 witnesses for the case.
MLS further said it also found that on May 22 2023, the ACB also filed an application seeking to consolidate the criminal proceedings against Muluzi.
Reads the letter in part: “All this suggests on its face that the public prosecutors involved in the actual prosecution had the evidence and the witnesses and were willing to prosecute when the Director of Public Prosecutions discontinued it on 26th May 2023 or thereabouts in exercise of his legal authority.
“The trial of a former president of a country, let alone on corruption related charges, is no doubt a consequential matter and we trust that the Director of Public Prosecutions’ decision to discontinue such a matter under the foregoing circumstances should have been circumspect.”
And in a written response yesterday, Mpaka said they are yet to receive feedback from the committee.
He said their expectation is to see a publicised inquiry and explanation before the Legal Affairs Committee where the DPP would articulate the reasons in the spirit of transparent and accountable governance. He said this would help Malawians to understand and evaluate the decision.
“We cannot tell how best the DPP could have handled the matter before hearing his detailed reasoning in light of this information that has emerged. It may be that the decision is merited in spite of this information,” Mpaka said.
In an interview yesterday, Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament chairperson Albert Mbawala said the committee is yet to meet the DPP and will only make the inquiry public, as per MLS request, should the DPP not cooperate.
He said the committee will first hear from the DPP before granting media interviews to share what transpired.
“We will be meeting him either this week or next week,” said Mbawala.
Commenting on the developments, University of Malawi Professor of Law Garton Kamchezera noted that the MLS move is meant to try and facilitate the truth so that the committee is well informed about what evidence they can put to the DPP.
He said: “Without prejudging the reasons, one would be thinking that maybe if what the ACB had, indicating that it was ready, was reviewed by the DPP, then the DPP might have formed the impression that there will be problems with some of the witnesses.
“So, maybe it might be difficult to prosecute it. But I think to come to that conclusion, we should wait for what he [DPP] is going to say and the reasons that he might present to them [committee].”
Court documents we have seen filed on May 25 2023 in the High Court of Malawi Criminal Registry show that some of the witnesses the ACB lined up included incumbent Ministry of Tourism Principal Secretary (PS) Chauncy Simwaka and former Ministry of Finance PS Cliff Chiunda.
Sources at the ACB said the graft-busting agency was ready to prosecute the matter as it gathered more evidence and that the witnesses were also ready and willing to testify in court.
The High Court of Malawi on May 29 2023 cleared Muluzi and his co-accused Lyness Whiskey of all charges in the $12 million abuse of public funds case that dragged for about 14 years after the DPP issued the discontinuance certificate on May 26 2023.
Under Section 99(3) of the Constitution, the DPP is required to explain the reasons for discontinuance to the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament within 10 days after the order.
In December 2022, ACB director general Martha Chizuma expressed frustrations with challenges her office was facing to prosecute high-profile corruption cases due to hurdles such as preliminary court orders that stalled progress. Two of her predecessors, Reyneck Matemba and Lucas Kondowe are also on record as having said that the matter was not prosecutable
Muluzi and Whiskey were arrested in 2006 for allegedly stealing the K1.7 billion which came to Malawi as aid from Taiwan, Morocco and Libya. He allegedly committed the offence when he was serving as the country’s president between 1994 and 2004.
But Muluzi denied wrongdoing, saying no foreign country would deposit donor money in a personal account and claims the case was trumped up for political reasons.
The trial started in 2009, but the case faced several adjournments, mostly due to Muluzi’s poor health as he sought medical treatment in the United Kingdom and South Africa.