The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has formally interviewed and recorded a statement from President Lazarus Chakwera in relation to the controversial fuel import deals at National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma).
Multiple sources familiar with the investigation told The Nation on Tuesday, that the interview took place at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe.
Unlike the publicised pending interview with immediate-past president Peter Mutharika in connection with the use of presidential duty-free privileges, the graft-busting agency kept a tight lid on the meeting with Chakwera.
In an interview on Tuesday, ACB director Martha Chizuma confirmed the meeting, but offered no details.
“We did interview and record a statement from HE [His Excellency the President] in relation to the Nocma fuel suppliers’ investigations,” she said.
One source said the Bureau talked to the President merely to seek clarifications from and corroborate certain information that some accused persons arrested in connection with the investigation provided to the ACB on the protracted procurement saga.
The source said: “The interview took place at Kamuzu Palace on 6th August. The President was provided courtesy of being informed by the bureau’s director that the ACB wantsed to hear his side of the story and he agreed and they [the bureau] took a written statement.”
Information The Nation has gathered shows that ACB head of investigations Dan Mponda met the President in Lilongwe.
The President, according to the sources, confirmed to the ACB team that he met the representatives of some of the fuel suppliers on the firms’ request, but that he could not recall the specific companies.
The sources said Chakwera also indicated that during the meetings, he advised the bidders to follow procurement laws in their bids.
The annual fuel supply contracts for the financial year 2021/22 were marred in controversy with Nocma pitted against the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) and Ministry of Energy.
While Mera said Nocma had jumped some steps in the procurement process and sidelined both the ministry and the regulator, Nocma alleged bribery by some public officers who wanted to influence the award of the contracts.
Following an ACB investigation, Minister of Energy Newton Kambala, the President’s chief adviser on strategy and manifesto implementation Chris Chaima Banda and Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Enock Chihana were arrested and charged in court over alleged involvement in the matter.
After an estimated 10-hour interrogation by the bureau early last month, the trio opted to mostly remain silent.
During the interrogation, the bureau played secret recordings and further asked questions based on text messages obtained by then Nocma acting chief executive officer (CEO) Helen Buluma, who is the State-owned agency’s deputy CEO, during meetings with some of the accused individuals and a meeting attended by Ministry of Energy officials and others.
Following the interrogation, Kambala’s lawyer George Mtchuka Mwale confirmed that the investigation touched on allegations of offering bribes and abuse of office, but did not divulge more details.
“They have asked questions and recorded statements,” the lawyer said.
On whether the ACB questions also tackled bribery and abuse of office, Mwale responded affirmatively: “The questions are along those lines.”
Chihana is on record as having told The Nation that he was informed about his charges, which he said involved allegedly offering a bribe and aiding and abetting a crime. He said he was surprised by his arrest as the bureau had not previously interviewed him to hear his side of the story.
Besides the complaint from Buluma, ACB also received a second complaint alleging corruption in the way Nocma conducted the process to award contracts to supply fuel. However, ACB said there was no evidence to back the second complainant who remains anonymous.