Nine years after the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) started probing how former president, Bingu wa Mutharika accumulated his wealth valued at K61 billion in 2013, the bureau appears to have silently abandoned the investigations.
For six weeks now, ACB has not responded to Weekend Nation’s questionnaire on progress on the matter despite several reminders. However, our investigations show that the probe stalled after the graft-busting body announced in 2019 that the information it obtained from Bingu’s off-shore bank account in Jersey Island, went missing.
Bingu is believed to have amassed wealth valued at the K61 billion during his eight years in office (2004 to 2012), when prior to becoming the country’s third president in 2004, his declared wealth was just about K150 million. But Bingu’s family has been disputing the K61 billion, although they have not said how much wealth he amassed.
A deceased’s estate attracts tax when it is transferred to new beneficiaries. Mutharika’s wealth was, therefore, supposed to be taxed before being transferred to any of his relatives.
Taxation analyst Misheck Msiska said in an interview that the tax from deceased estate is called ‘estate duty’.
“It is a complex duty which, I think, is administered by the Administrator General,” he said.
It is alleged that the bulk of the former president’s cash was stashed in foreign banks while the lion’s share of his property is in other countries such as the United Kingdom (UK), United States of America (USA) and Zimbabwe.
In 2014 ACB—through the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP)—got some information on Bingu’s bank accounts from Jersey Island, a UK Crown Dependency.
The then ACB director general Rezine Mzikamanda wrote the DPP—the Ministry of Justice’s prosecution arm—acknowledging receipt of the Jersey Island information on July 4 2014.
According to information from Standard Bank Jersey Limited, Bingu opened a joint Optimum Account number 58099848 with his daughter Duwa Mutharika Mubaira.
But five years later, in 2019, the then ACB director general Reyneck Matemba confirmed to our sister newspaper Nation on Sunday in March 2019 that the information which was part of the ACB probe was missing.
He further stated that his office, through the facilitation of DPP and Attorney General (AG), was planning to write authorities in Jersey Island to re-send the said accounts details.
Asked if the Malawi government wrote authorities in Jersey Island to re-send the information, AG Thabo Chakaka-Nyirenda referred Weekend Nation to the DPP Steven Kayuni, saying requests for mutual legal assistance come through the DPP’s office before going to the AG’s office.
But Kayuni said ACB did not inform his office about the missing information and was yet to get any request from the bureau to write Jersey Island authorities to resend the details.
The DPP said his office knows that the information from Jersey Island was forwarded to ACB and “there has not been official communication from ACB that the information went missing. This is unfortunate. We hope that it was sorted out. Otherwise, normally, Malawi has to re-process the mutual legal assistance request through DPP for Honourable Attorney General’s cooperation certificate to Jersey,” he explained.
In an earlier interview with Weekend Nation, Ministry of Justice spokesperson Pirirani Masanjala, whose office also speaks for the DPP and AG, said they were still waiting for instructions from ACB for the ministry to communicate with authorities in Jersey Island.
“It is the offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney General which communicate with other international institutions on such issues. But we only work on instructions. Until the ACB directs us, we cannot do anything. This is because we only have prosecutorial powers, but ACB has both the prosecutorial and investigative powers,” he said.
But a governance and accountability advocate Willy Kambwandira observed the slowness in prosecuting the case puts to question the ACB’s independence in prosecuting high-profile cases and also raises concern over selective prosecution of corruption cases.
He noted there was a lot of rhetoric on making the bureau independent yet the “truth remains that the ACB is at the mercy of politicians”.
“The only way out is to change the legal framework that guides operations of the bureau, including recruitment of its director general. Unless we change the law, Malawians should not read much in the investigations, and sadly, this is frustrating the fight against corruption.
“The reality is that ACB remains under capture, and institutions that are supposed to work with the bureau are even becoming more questionable in their conduct, determination and prioritisation of issues, they seem not to be keen on high-profile corruption cases,” said Kambwandira, who is executive director of Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency.
While expressing concern on the manner ACB was handling the issue, National Anti-Corruption Alliance chairperson Moses Mkandawire said Parliament, through its relevant committees, should ask ACB and DPP to explain what they were doing to help each other in probing the matter.
“Remaining quiet like that for a long time raises questions of the integrity, commitment and seriousness on the part of ACB because we are not talking about simple money; K61 billion is a lot,” he said.
Legally, the ACB is supposed to report to the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament regarding its work, but the committee’s chairperson Peter Dimba said they have no report from ACB relating to the probe.
“They have not briefed us anything on that issue so before they do that, there is nothing we can do because we are not even aware of the developments surrounding the probe,” he said.
ACB’s failure to probe Bingu’s wealth and loss of the information it obtained from Jersey Island happened at the same time the Democratic Progressive Party’s administration either silently dropped some cases linked to the former president or the cases stalled.
Dropped cases included one in which government wanted to turn Bineth Trust, run by the former leader, into a public trust.
Government also dropped a treason case, popularly known as ‘the Midnight Six’ in which six Cabinet ministers were accused of plotting to unconstitutionally take over the reins of power. Those that stalled included the one on the death of Polytechnic student Robert Chasowa and the cases on the July 20 2013 killings that saw 20 protesters killed by police in Mzuzu.