Lawyers representing some former government accountants and contractors implicated in the K2.4 billion Cashgate case yesterday took turns to distance their clients from any involvement in the scam.
Former Ministry of Tourism officer Leonard Kalonga, a Cashgate convict, implicated the accountants as some of the civil servants he allegedly dealt directly and indirectly with in the scam to siphon billions of kwacha between April and September 2013 from which he allegedly pocketed about K50 million.
He also claimed that the contractors were aware of the racket and that some would even negotiate for a bigger cut or offer their companies to be used in the scam for less.
During crossexamination, lawyer Andy Kaonga, who is representing former principal accountant Roosevelt Ndovi, got the State witness to admit that he had never met the accused person and he was not present at two separate occasions where the scheme was hatched.
Kalonga said he never recruited Ndovi or named him in the elaborate scheme in which contractors and civil servants connived to siphon money from the government.
“I did not personally deliver the payment vouchers [to Ndovi who worked at the Accountant General], I just dropped off someone to do it,” he said.
Kalonga also admitted upon being questioned that he would have no doubt that the scheme was set up in a way that duped those who were not involved in the planning stages.
But Kalonga told the court that George Banda, a chief accountant in the Ministry of Tourism, had full knowledge of what was going on and it was him who roped in other accountants in the ministry’s department.
He admitted typing a letter for additional funding which Banda had drafted as well as identifying most of the contractors on the vendors’ list which was submitted to the Accountant General for funding.
However, Banda’s lawyer Kiphet Kalasa asked Kalonga if his client was involved in liaising with Treasury or if he received any cheques to which he replied that to his knowledge he was not.
“So in your evidence, Mr Banda would not be in this court if it was not for you?” Kalasa asked to which Kalonga responded in the affirmative.
When asked if he had any knowledge that Banda was involved in destroying payment vouchers to erase evidence of the fraud, Kalonga said while he did not see him, the payment vouchers came from his department.
Lawyer for Michael Mphatso, an assistant accountant in the Ministry of Tourism, was next to cross-examine Kalonga during which he admitted that he did not know him well at the time.
Mphatso’s lawyer, Robert Kadzakumanja, asked Kalonga if he could consider his client as someone who mattered to get them in executing the scheme, to which he said no. Kalonga, however, said he did not know who originated the payment vouchers or vendors’ list in the ministry’s accounts department although he signed on the vouchers on few occasions.
“It was difficult to tell who was preparing vouchers although I signed on them sometimes. I could not remember names of who had prepared them,” he said.
Kalonga did not admit that Mphatso was not involved in the drafting of the letter for extra funding neither was he present at meetings to discuss how the racket would be carried out.
He alleged that Mphatso pocketed K50 million because they were sharing the proceeds equally. He maintained that Mphatso participated because he signed for payment vouchers and was present when they agreed to destroy the distribution list of the proceeds.
“He detached the supporting documents and also destroyed documents, especially those from distribution meetings. I know this because we agreed that everyone should destroy them,” Kalonga said of Mphatso.
On supplier Sympathy Chisale, his lawyer Gilbert Khonyongwa accused Kalonga of duping his client that the payment vouchers were for an actual supplier of goods and services.
Khonyongwa’s argument was based on the fact that Chisale received the cheques with payment vouchers which indicated the service rendered.
“Chisale was aware of everything. It was normal and standard procedure to hand over cheques with payment vouchers during the first funding when attachments were required,” Kalonga said.
The State witness is awaiting sentencing after he pleaded guilty to siphoning K3.2 billion, but he told the court yesterday that he was guilty of participating in the scam although he claimed not to have pocketed the money.
Meanwhile, several of the accused persons are yet to cross examine Kalonga after they requested documents from the State before doing so.