Efforts by the office of the Attorney General (AG) to go after individuals suspected of defrauding the Malawi Government in various deals have come under scrutiny with stakeholders calling for clarity and an all-inclusive process.
In a statement issued yesterday following recovery of 516 975.21 euro (about K600 million) from the botched Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) deal, AG Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda said efforts are underway in the United States of America by the Camden County New Jersey Prosecutors and the police who have arrested and charged one of the principal suspects.
But in separate interviews yesterday, legal and economic commentators said the move will count to nought without clarity and where others are seen to be left out of the dragnet.
University of Malawi law professor Garton Kamchedzera said the country needs to separate the need to recover the money and those at fault for the corruption, fraud, negligence and ineptitude that caused the loss of this money and other consequential losses against the people of Malawi.
He said: “The recovery of the money is an example of sterling use of the rules and processes in a highly technical area of the law. Not many lawyers can work in the area of the recovery of wrongfully syphoned public resources.
“The related, but separate process to identify who did what and why to locate those at fault, we hope, will continue. I hope the agencies dedicated to do that and to pursue criminal and administrative processes have been working on that.”
In a separate interview, Mzuzu-based private practice lawyer George Kadzipatike also said the recovery of the money is good news to all taxpayers, adding, it was not easy to recover the money considering that the alleged fraud was international.
But he said it was surprising that those who were complicit in the alleged fraud from within Malawi have not been taken to task.
“The Attorney General, who is very familiar with this issue, can advise the law enforcement agencies to investigate the matter and bring the suspected culprits to book, and I know that advice from the Attorney General’s office is not taken lightly by any government department,” said Kadzipatike.
In an earlier interview, public expenditure tracking expert Mavuto Bamusi said while recovery of the money was good news, officials and the former minister of Agriculture need to answer why they carried out such a bogus transaction.
He said: “The refund does not take away the wrong doing. All those that took apart and approved the transaction must be brought before the law in line with Public Finance Management laws.
“It is clear that this was an act with intent to defraud taxpayers and such an act must be punishable. It is a pity that those involved are walking scot free presumably because they are connected to the ruling party.”
The AG’s statement said the trial for the suspect in the US would commence next month.
He said: “This is a warning to other criminals that they will not commit crimes in Malawi with impunity and hope to get away with it.
“We will relentlessly pursue them, as we have done here, on behalf of the people of Malawi until monies are safely returned and the perpetrators are brought to justice.”
The AG said his office will also vigorously pursue recovery efforts against individuals who have defrauded the country in the past.
Said Nyirenda: “My office is pleased to announce the recovery of the sum of 516 975.21 euro on behalf of the Malawi Government and the Smallholder Farmers Fertiliser Revolving Fund of Malawi [SFFRFM] following the fraud committed by Barkaat Food Limited (Barkaat) and Bova Investments Corporation [Bova].
“The funds have now been received by SFFRFM. The successful outcome of the case is a testament to the robustness, effectiveness, and efficiency of the German justice and legal system.”
In an interview yesterday, Nyirenda said these prosecutions abroad are part of the recovery efforts and will continue, but could not specifically comment on whether there will be arrests locally or not.
He said: “I will come back to you on this.”
Upon being alerted to the fraud by red flags, the Fidor Bank AG and the German authorities intercepted and froze the funds in the bank account of one Andrei Grünbaum, an Estonian collaborator of Barkaat and Bova in July 2022.
Criminal proceedings were commenced against Grünbaum in November 2022 by the Office of the Public Prosecutor in Munich, Germany.
On October 13 2022, former Ministry of Agriculture principal secretary Sandram Maweru said SFFRFM had a contract with Barkaat Foods Limited of the United Kingdom for the supply of fertiliser for the 2022/23 AIP.
The botched deal irked President Lazarus Chakwera who on October 25 2022 sacked then minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe and his deputy Madalitso Kambauwa Wirima for purportedly failing to provide leadership. Wirima has since been reappointed into Cabinet as Minister of Education.