The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) says it will not be intimidated by former governing Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) calls for the graft-busting body to stop probing the party’s president Peter Mutharika.
ACB director general Martha Chizuma said this in reaction to a DPP statement signed by the party’s newly appointed spokesperson Shadric Namalomba accusing the bureau of harassing the country’s immediate-past president.
In the statement, Namalomba said DPP had observed that in the past 12 months, the ACB has constantly persecuted Mutharika by freezing his bank accounts.
Reads the statement in part: “We have now learnt with shock that the ACB wants to invade and search the former president’s house, personal phones and laptops, contrary to the laws of this country under Section 21 (a) of the Constitution [which guarantees every person equality].
“The intended search for an innocent former president who is not charged with any crime amounts to political persecution and psychological torture of the highest order. If the ACB is indeed a body mandated to fight corruption, it must have told the nation the offences that the former president has committed.”
But Chizuma said if DPP or Mutharika feel aggrieved by the corruption investigation they were free to seek legal redress through the courts.
She said: “But what the DPP cannot do is to intimidate and threaten law enforcement agencies like the bureau which is simply discharging its mandate.
“Everything that the bureau has done and continues to do in respect of ongoing investigations on allegations of abuse of the taxpayer identification number [TPIN] belonging to the former president is within the law.”
Chizuma said ACB will not succumb to any intimidation or threat regardless of who makes them.
She also said any threats and intimidation against the bureau and its officers amount to an offence under Section 13 of the Corrupt Practices Act.
She said: “The bureau will not hesitate to pursue such route where need be.”
In two separate statements on July 16 and 20, the ACB said their planned caution interview with the former president was a normal and legal process which started in 2020.
In a separate interview, Mutharika confirmed knowledge of the statement signed by Namalomba, saying: “I think you need to ask Namalomba. But he has been working on it [the statement].”
Namalomba, on the other hand, stood by the statement he signed, saying Mutharika’s probe was political because the former president already denied any involvement in the TPIN issue.
He said: “The former president has stated several times and he issued a statement that he doesn’t know anything and that some people were using his TPIN.
“Is that not evidence enough for the ACB? In fact, there are some people who were signing for those goods, why can’t the ACB follow them up?
“There is no way goods could be imported into the country without the knowledge of MRA [Malawi Revenue Authority], so why is the ACB not asking officials that side on what really happened?”
Put to him that the ACB stated that any intimidation or threats to the ACB was a crime, Namalomba—who is Mangochi South West legislator and chairperson of Public Accounts Committee of Parliament—said the ACB was not above the law.
“As a party, we feel if the persecution of Mutharika continues, we will seek legal redress,” he said.
But private practice lawyer John-Gift Mwakhwawa yesterday backed the ACB, saying the bureau was within its rights to investigate, search, interview, arrest and prosecute a suspect.
He said: “It is up to Mutharika, not DPP, to exercise any of the rights that are accorded to a suspected or accused person under the Constitution.”
While Mutharika is yet to be charged, the ACB had previously wanted to question him on the cement saga and alleged abuse of his TPIN.
The former president indicated that he would exercise his right to remain silence during the interview with ACB.
But two weeks ago, Chizuma said ACB had given up on the interview and would, instead, pursue other legal means.
Mutharika’s former personal bodyguard and State Residences head of security Norman Chisale alongside former State Residences director general Peter Mukhito were arrested over the saga last year.
Mutharika is also on record as having described the planned ACB interview as political witch-hunt.
His issue relates to his aides’ use of his TPIN in the importation of 800 000 bags of cement worth K5 billion from Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The former president was also questioned under caution by the Fiscal Police in August last year and he immediately issued a statement distancing himself from the importation of the said cement.
Besides Mukhito and Chisale, others arrested in connection with the cement investigation included former MRA deputy commissioner general Roza Mbilizi and a Lilongwe-based Asian businessperson Ahmed Chunara. Mutharika lost the court-sanctioned fresh presidential election held on June 23 2020 to President Lazarus Chakwera who led a nine-political-party Tonse Alliance with Mutharika’s then estranged Vice-President Saulos Chilima as running mate.