Mota-Engil, the company that has made billions of kwacha in construction projects in Malawi, made some periodic payments in 2010 and 2011 to the late president Bingu wa Mutharika personally.
The construction company made separate cheque payments to the late president from as low as K1 million (about $4 000) to as high as K10 million (about $40 000) at a time. The Nation has seen paid cheques amounting to K13.5 million (about $54 000).
Mutharika, who died at the height of whispers regarding his relationship with Mota-Engil, also had some of the companyâ€™s cheques deposited directly into his personal accounts at some commercial banks.
This week, Mota-Engil, which also built Mutharikaâ€™s Villa Casablanca and his final resting place Mpumulo wa Bata at Ndata Farm in Thyolo, defended the payments as donations towards a cause.
Our investigations, which are part of The Nationâ€™s efforts to establish Mutharikaâ€™s sources of wealth speculated to be in billions of kwacha, revealed that, among others, Mota-Engil made the cheque deposits into the late presidentâ€™s personal bank account number 0140001886701 at Capital City Branch of Standard Bank.
One cheque worth K10 million was deposited into Mutharikaâ€™s Standard Bank account number 0140001886701 on March 3 2010.
On the deposit slip, the depositor only identified himself as Mota-Engil, but the signature is the same as the one on an FMB cheque number 9480 belonging to Mota-Engil.
This signature is also on two other cheques The Nation managed to source during the month-long investigation.
On verification with Mota-Engil sources, it was claimed the K10 million cheque was deposited by a Mota-Engil chief accountant who is currently out of Malawi on leave. The other signature on the three cheques is for managing director Antonmarco Zorzi.
The other two cheques are numbered 12570 (worth K2.5 million) and 12571 (worth K1 million). These cheques were written on March 24 2011. The Nation could not immediately establish which account they were deposited into.
But all the three cheques were drawn from the Mota-Engil Engenhara Eco FMB current account number 0000740254008.
In an interview on Wednesday, Zorzi said all the three cheques were payments for three books he got at the auction of The African Dream, Mutharikaâ€™s book launched in February 2011.
Said Zorzi: â€œThe issue of these cheques is something very simple and official. There was an auction and actually one of the books was offered to me personally.
â€œOne of the books was K10 million, the other K2.5 million and the other K1 million. I canâ€™t remember exactly.â€
But information shows that the K10 million cheque being referred to was deposited on March 3 2010 and not in 2011 when Mutharikaâ€™s book was launched.
Zorzi parried fears that his payments to Mutharika may have been used to influence contract awards, explaining that Mota-Engil has been successful in most bids for construction projects because they are always the lowest bidder.
â€œWe are the lowest because we are a big company and we know how to put up successful proposals. You can verify with the Ministry of Finance or Roads Authority,â€ said Zorzi.
Mota-Engil came in Malawi in 1990 and one of their first projects was the construction of part of the M5 Lakeshore Road between Dwangwa and Nkhata Bay which started the same year. But the firm only became a major player in the local construction industry during the Mutharika regime.
â€œTheir second project was the Msulira-Nkhotakota Road, which was executed between 2001 and 2004. Since 2001, Mota has been participating in a number of road project tenders and have been successful in some of them [the tenders],â€ confirmed Roads Authority chief executive officer Paul Kulemeka in an e-mail this week.
Figures sourced from the Roads Fund Administration show that Mota-Engil has, as of August this year, made about K53 billion (about $212 million) in construction jobs in Malawi, most of which during the Mutharika reign.
Out of this, K26 billion was direct payment from government funded projects while K27 billion came from donor-funded projects.
Apart from road projects, Mota-Engil has other contracts with government in other transport-sub-sectors. For example, it holds the deal to construct the late Mutharikaâ€™s pet project, the Nsanje World Inland Port.
In October 2010, Mota-Engilâ€™s chairperson of board of directors Antonio Mota also came to Malawi to sign a concession to operate transport services on Lake Malawi. The Mota chairperson also attended the launch of the Nsanje World Inland Port.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), a governance arm of the Roman Catholic Church, has said the payments to Mutharika personally compromised issues of governance.
Said Chris Chisoni, CCJPâ€™s national secretary: â€œTherefore, laws need to be enacted for public disclosure of bank accounts for presidents and from time to time, declaration on bank balances ought to be made to the public.
â€œThe right to privacy cannot prevail on public figures who are mandated to lead the development agenda when trends show self-enrichment is the order,â€
Chisoni suggested a thorough investigation by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and fiscal police to ascertain the authenticity of the Mota-Engil contracts in the country and whether the personal payments could be construed as kickbacks.