In a dramatic twist of events, former president Peter Mutharika yesterday distanced himself from the importation of cement worth over K5 billion from Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Mutharika’s personal secretary Linda Salanjira confirmed in an interview yesterday that her office issued the statement that affirmed that Mutharika was not aware of any cement deals during his tenure.
“Yes I can confirm the statement was issued by this office,” said Salanjira in brief response after the statement surfaced on social media.
In the statement, Mutharika seems to suggest being a victim of identity fraud in the scandal in which his personal bodyguard Norman Chisale was arrested and charged for.
Chisale is alleged to have a hand in the importation of K5 billion worth of cement allegedly using Mutharika duty-free status accorded to sitting presidents.
“The former President neither bought nor instructed anyone to buy or import the cement in question. Accordingly, the former President did not, as he could not, request the Malawi Revenue Authority to invoke any of his privileges to clear the alleged consignment of cement duty-free.
“Further, the former President was never at any point undertaking any construction project(s) requiring such substantial volumes of cement,” read the statement in part.
It added that Mutharika did not operate any business to sell cement on retail or wholesale.
The statement concludes: “For the avoidance of doubt, the former President did not have any dealings with the alleged cement traders either personally or through a third party.”
Since our sister paper The Nation broke the story on June 17, 2020, the saga had always had Mutharika’s fingerprints all over but the recent move by the former president—who had never commented on it all along—swings the scandal to another level.
Mutharika’s former press secretary Mgeme Kalirani earlier defended the cement importation issue when quizzed by The Nation, arguing that under Customs Procedure Code 418 of the Customs and Excise Tariff, the President is allowed to import goods duty-free.
Asked yesterday to comment on the latest statement from his former employer, Kalirani stood by his earlier response.
“The response I gave was to a question regarding the former President importing cement and the cement entering Malawi duty-free. And I said ‘the President is entitled to import goods duty free for personal use and I cited the law for that provision’. I stand by that response.
“The matter that the purported statement from the former president is addressing is different from what I addressed in my response,” he said.
Kalilani said the statement from Mutharika is dealing with the allegation that one of the former president’s aide and a businessman were allegedly abusing the Presidential statutory duty wàiver and imported tens of thousands of tonnes in the former president’s name.
“I never addressed this issue because it had not arisen at that moment,” he pointed out.
Fiscal Police last week also arrested businessperson Shaffe Chunara, owner of Prestige Imports and Exports, in connection with the controversial K5 billion duty-free cement saga.
Chisale—who was granted bail on this case, was re- arrested on another while Chunara is on bail.