The High Court in Lilongwe on Wednesday started hearing a case involving 14 civil servants believed to be the masterminds of looting public funds at Capital Hill between November 2010 and June 2011.
It emerged during a court appearance on Wednesday that the 14 allegedly conspired to swindle public funds amounting to K201 million during the stated period.
The court also learnt that subsequent revelations of the plunder of public resources in 2013 dubbed Cashgate was an upgrade of the theft of public money by the suspects between 2010 and 2011.
The suspects, as they appear on the charge sheet, are Cornelius Kaphantengo, Chikondi Chimutu, Emmanuel Yesaya, Deusdedit Tenthani, Tendai Nayeja, Audney Kamitengeni, Conrad Nambala, Justina Nyirenda, Squire Chikwana, Jimmy Mbuliro, Wides Machika Mbuliro, Tapiwa Ng’oma, Khumbo Banda and one only identified as Yvonne.
Initially, all but Justina Nyirenda were charged with three counts, but after some discussion between the State and defence lawyers, they faced one charge of conspiracy to commit felony.
Positions of the suspects in the civil service, currently on court bail, range from accountants and assistant accountants to switchboard operator working for the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare as well as Accountant General’s office.
Presenting the lawyers’ position on how the case should proceed given the number of the suspects, defence lawyer Charles Mhango told the court that they had agreed not to take pleas on Wednesday to allow time for consolidating the charges.
He said: “In addition, given that the court is in vacation, we propose that a new date be set when to begin the trials.”
In his ruling, High Court judge Charles Mkandawire set October 7 2015 as the date for the suspects to take their pleas
In an interview later, Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) deputy director general Reyneck Matemba said the case had been consolidated because some of the suspects would also be witnesses as the case progresses.
He said: “The charges relate to conspiracy to commit felony, theft and money laundering, except for Nyirenda. However, since the offences were cross-cutting, we have decided to consolidate all into one charge.
“What was happening was that the 14 were conspiring to steal from government using Nova Technologies and General Dealers, which was owned by Cornelius Kaphantengo and [they] would then [allegedly] share out the cash. They never received cheques. So, as ACB, we have evidence of how the trail of money was moving.”
In 2013, the shooting of former Ministry of Finance budget director Paul Mphwiyo led to revelations of the plunder of public resources at Capital Hill.
Former president Joyce Banda ordered an audit which British forensic auditor, Baker Tilly, undertook between April and September 2013 and established that about K24 billion was siphoned from public coffers through dubious payments, inflated invoices and goods or services never rendered.
In May this year, a financial analysis report by audit and business advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) also established that about K577 billion in public funds could not be reconciliated between 2009 and December 31 2014.