The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has changed direction in former president Peter Mutharika’s planned caution interview on alleged abuse of his taxpayer identification number (TPIN) from the cement importation saga to all his property in general.
The graft-busting body has since prepared seven files out of which to interrogate the 81-year-old former president. The interrogation will border on his asset declaration and the property he imported into the country using his TPIN during his stay at State House from May 2014 to June 2020.
ACB director general Martha Chizuma in an interview on Thursday said the bureau was investigating the alleged abuse of the former president’s TPIN.
“The documents we have presented him relate to the goods that were bought and cleared using his TPIN during the period of his presidency. We are not investigating goods imported outside the TPIN,” she said.
On Tuesday, one of Mutharika’s lawyers Samuel Tembenu also confirmed the development in a written response but referred Weekend Nation to ACB for more details.
Said Tembenu: “The ACB can give you the details on this, though I can say that the seven files do not connote seven issues. These are information packs.”
In its two press statements issued on July 16 and 20, ACB only indicated it would interview Mutharika on the allegations of abuse of his TPIN as part of the on-going investigation process.
“The bureau would like to let Malawians know that this is a normal and legal process which started in 2020. The ACB hopes that this will put the record straight on the various stories circulating in the social media surrounding this matter,” reads the statement dated July 16 2021 and signed by the bureau’s principal public relations officer Egrita Ndala.
The bureau has failed to interview Mutharika three times and a new date for the exercise is yet to be set after the former president, who is also leader of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), asked ACB to allow him a week-long rest before he can be interviewed.
On Tuesday, Mutharika issued a statement in which he accused ACB of political witch hunt and employing underhand tactics in the matter.
Commenting on the issue, Malawi Law Society honorary secretary Chrispin Ngunde said the bureau had powers to investigate and require any person to provide information.
“The ACB has the discretion to decide on which matters to investigate. As far as the ACB is conducting its legal mandate, we have no problem with the investigation.
“This is an opportunity for the former president to demonstrate to the public that his pronouncements on the fight against corruption when he was in office as President were not mere lip service but genuine utterances. We would urge him to cooperate with ACB,” said Ngunde.
But a legal commentator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the bureau needed to be clear from the word go and “not doing one thing in the public eye but doing differently behind the scenes.”
“Last time, Mutharika also accused ACB of lying to the public by saying they had unfrozen his bank accounts when they actually did not unfreeze those accounts. Now they are saying one thing but doing something. ACB must stop this pattern of operating,” she said.
Mutharika’s issue relates to his aide’s unauthorised 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.
The cement saga and alleged abuse of his TPIN led to the arrest of Mutharika’s personal bodyguard Norman Chisale and former chief of staff Peter Mukhito.
Besides the two aides, others arrested in connection with the scandal included former Malawi Revenue Authority deputy commissioner general Roza Mbilizi and a Lilongwe, based Asian businessman Ahmed Chunara.