The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has come up with new charges against Vice-President Saulos Chilima and its former director Reyneck Matemba, completely abandoning the charges for which they were initially arrested for.
This comes just four days after lawyers in a case involving Chilima mounted a legal challenge in court against introduction of new charges almost 10 months after their client was arrested, charged and granted bail.
Matemba was arrested in August last year in his capacity as Solicitor General for allegedly receiving a $10 000 bribe from businessperson Zuneth Sattar who is said to have bribed multiple public and private officials in Malawi to influence award of contracts. He was released on bail the same day of arrest.
Court records, we have seen, show that the ACB has dropped earlier charges and introduced new ones which no longer mention the $10 000 bribe.
The bureau is yet to respond to our questionnaire to justify these changes almost a year after his arrest.
Matemba is now facing two counts under the offence: failure to declare interest by a public officer contrary to Section 25D (2) (a) of the Corrupt Practices Act (CPA) as read together with Section 34 of the Corrupt Practices Act.
Reads the first count: “Reyneck Matemba being a public officer and in his capacities as an ex-officio board member of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDA) by virtue of his appointment as Solicitor General and Secretary to the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs on or around 3rd June 2021 at Makokola Retreat in Mangochi, failed to declare his interest in a board meeting which reviewed and granted a no objection for the Malawi Police Service to award a contract reference number MPS/SB/16/04/2021 worth of USD 7 875 000.00 to Xaviar Limited for the supply and delivery of 350 000 ration packs despite having knowledge that the director of Xaviar Limited was Zuneth Abdul Rashid Sattar also known as Josan or JK who was his close associate and had a direct interest in the said contract”.
On another count, Matemba is accused of failing to declare interest when he vetted this same contract as Solicitor General despite being a close associate to Sattar.
This is a departure from earlier charges which was corrupt use of official powers contrary to section (1) of the CPA as read with section 34 of the same act. The other offence was misuse of office contrary to section 25B (1) of the CPA as read with section 34 of the same act.
On corrupt use of official powers Matemba, as Solicitor General, is accused to have received $10 000 from Sattar.
Reads the particulars of the offence: “Reyneck Matemba, being a public officer by virtue of his appointment as Solicitor General and Principal Secretary to Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs between June and July 2021, in Lilongwe district, being concerned with the vetting process of food ration contract between Malawi Police Service and Xaviar Limited reference number MPS/SB/16/04/2021 worth $7 875 000.00 corruptly received for himself in relation to such matters an advantage namely money totalling to $10 000 from Zuneth Abdul Rashid Sattar managing director of Xavier Limited”.
On the second count, the bureau accused Matemba of misuse of public office by participating and vetting of a food ration contract between Malawi Police Service and Xaviar Limited despite the fact that Sattar was his close associate.
In an interview, Matemba confirmed receiving notice of the new charges saying only ACB can justify the change from initial charges he was arrested for.
Said Matemba: “I was arrested by the ACB on allegations that I had received a bribe of $10 000 from Zuneth Sattar, and it is the same ACB that has dropped those bribery charges. The ACB is, therefore, in a better position to explain what has now changed for them to drop the bribery charges after a year, and coincidentally, after the High Court’s directive that the ACB should disclose their evidence”.
In the case of Chilima while the initial charge sheet particulars of the offence indicated that he received a $280 000 bribe to assist Xaviar Limited be awarded the food ration packs contract, the new particulars of the offences do not mention the $280 000 bribe instead accuses Chilima of demanding and receiving “unspecified amounts of money for himself” to influence a public officer to give his approval to the Malawi Police Service to enter into a contract with Xaviar Limited for the supply of food ration.
Khumbo Soko, one of Chilima’s lawyers, said this change showed that the ACB was not ready to prosecute the case.
But the ACB, through its lawyer Chrispin Khunga, who is also director of legal and prosecution, argued that the change is within the law and practice.
He said the offences remain the same but what has significantly changed are just particulars.
Chilima could not take plea as his lawyers want the court to make a decision on this.
Justice Redson Kapindu is expected to make a ruling on this matter on August 25, 2023.
Asked if he will mount a legal challenge, Matemba who is his own lawyer in the case, said he will allow the ACB to prosecute the matter as it pleases as long as “they follow all the rules and procedures for conducting criminal trials”.
Matemba was arrested on August 25, last year and on May 10, 2023 his case was committed to the High Court. His case has since been adjourned to August 10, 2023 for plea taking and directions.
ACB principal public relations officer Egrita Ndala said in an interview yesterday that under Section 151 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code an amendment to the charges is allowed at any stage before an accused person is called for his defence. This is to allow the prosecution to align the offences with the evidence.