Former president Peter Mutharika doesn’t own land where he built his beachside retirement home in Mangochi, the district commissioner (DC) has disclosed.
Mangochi DC Raphael Piringu in his response dated October 8 2020 to the Ombudsman who sought an explanation on how his office dealt with the land purportedly bought by Malawi’s former leader and now under dispute, disclosed as per documentation from Ministry of Lands that it was bought by Moyenda Mutharika.
Albert Viola, who claims to have co-owned the land with his brother Ernest Viola, dragged Mangochi District Council to the Office of the Ombudsman for abusing its office as the sale of the land to the former president could not have proceeded without facilitation and enablement of the council.
But the DC, in his explanation to Ombudsman Martha Chizuma, said the sale of land to Moyenda at K30 million followed the Violas resolution to dispose off the land.
The Ombudsman in response to a WhatsApp questionnaire admitted receiving the response from the Mangochi DC, adding she was waiting to hear from Albert Viola before her office maps the way forward.
Albert Viola in a separate interview on Wednesday said he was still soliciting some documents from Ministry of Lands before he responds to the DC’s narrative.
Piringu, in his response to the Ombudsman, claimed amid disputes over the land in question, a meeting held on July 21 2013, chaired by a family member Saulos Nkuluzado, agreed that the land be disposed of by way of sale and the proceeds be shared as follows: Ernest Viola 60 per cent and Albert Viola 40 per cent.
Piringu explained that the money was deposited into a National Bank account number 0000000520659, Lilongwe Gateway Service Centre on June 22 2017 and later, application for consent to transfer lease was made to the Commissioner of Lands and it was processed in favour of Moyenda Mutharika.
The account 0000000520659 bears the name Saulos Manuel Nkuluzado, as account holder, as per our further findings.
Nkuluzado, in an interview Wednesday, confirmed his account was used to make the payment for the land and that it was shared as was agreed between the two Violas, with some amounts from the proceeds going towards payments for deed and other related charges.
He claimed Albert Viola pocketed K7.3 million and Ernest Viola got K12 million plus.
Although the DC kept referring to Moyenda as a Mr, but Moyenda Mutharika Knapp, a lawyer by based in the USA who represents clients in all phases of employment law and business litigation matters, according to her professional biography, is daughter to Peter Mutharika.
Albert Viola, who claims to have received K7.3 million in earlier interviews as proceeds of the land sale, complained to the Ombudsman that the land was sold unscrupulously and without his consent to Mutharika ,president of Malawi then.
He further claimed the sale was also unduly influenced by the then Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) district governor (for Mangochi) Salile Mdala, and that Mdala separately sold part of this land [to Mutharika].
The DC, who was given up to October 21 2020 to provide his response, told the Ombudsman that to put the record straight, the piece of land in issue was purchased by Moyenda Mutharika and not the former head of State as was being alleged.
“As a matter of background madam, this land was first acquired by Mr. Ernest M. Viola, a brother to Mr. Albert Viola in December 1992,” he said, making an attachment of a sketch map of the land in Chisigere Village, Traditional Authority Mponda.
Piringu explained that a dispute arose in 1998 between Ernest Viola and the late businessperson -cum- politician James Makhumula and Viola requested assistance of the DC, as it appeared the same land was also sold to Makhumula by the local subjects.
He said it was during the time of the dispute with Makhumula that the name of Albert Viola started to appear.
“During one of the dispute resolution meetings, an agreement dated 26th January 2006 between Makhumula and Mr. Ernest Viola was reached to end the dispute.
“This agreement was witnessed by the then [DC] Mr. James Manyetera and Mr. Albert Viola signed the agreement on behalf of his brother Mr. Ernest M. Viola,” said the DC and attached the dispute resolution agreement.
He said having sorted that dispute; another arose in 2011, this time between Bwanali Msusa and Albert Viola regarding money Albert Viola owed him as balance for the land.
The matter, the DC said, was contested in court and Msusa lost the case.
Piringu said later in 2012, Albert Viola applied for a lease of the land under Canaan Farms Ltd, but around July 2013, Ernest Viola wrote the DC, advising him not to proceed with the lease process of the land.
“He stated that his brother was doing this without his consent and warned the council of adverse legal consequences that would follow should it not heed to his request,” said the DC and attached a document as evidence.
A serious dispute, Piringu continued, arose between the two brothers and Ernest Viola insisted that his portion should not be part of Canaan Farms. The two, he said, were advised to go and settle their differences at family level and they both agreed. The DC attached an agreement document signed by both.
He said the feud between Albert Viola and Msusa continued despite that he lost the case in court, forcing Albert Viola to lodge a complaint with the DC that he was failing to utilise the land.
Piringu further explained to the Ombudsman: “Following a family resolution of 9th April 2014 and a letter written by Mr. Saulosi Nkuluzado dated 4th May 2014, requesting the district commissioner to process lease documents in favour of Mr. Saulosi Nkuluzado, the office processed the lease and forwarded it to the Regional Commissioner for Lands for further processing.
“Mr. Saulos Nkuluzado was offered a 99-year lease from 1st June 2015 of 3.3 hectares (ha) and he accepted the offer by paying the yearly ground rent fee of K504 308 on 1st July 2015 under general receipt number 1681416.”
The DC said Nkuluzado was given the title to this land by government and was paying ground rentals until it was sold, on behalf of Albert Viola and Ernest Viola, to Moyenda Mutharika in June 2017.
Piringu explained that the land was sold to Moyenda in three pieces by Nkuluzado, Msusa and Patuma Ali.
“However, it is important to highlight that Mr. Bwanali Msusa had another piece of land upon which stood his house while Patuma Ali had her own piece which she was using as a garden. Both of them were holding their pieces as customary land and these two pieces were never part of the disputed land,” the DC said.
Piringu said Moyenda had to negotiate with Msusa and Ali separately and paid them a combined total of K8.5 million on June 25 2017. He mentioned witnesses to the deal and attached the sale agreement.
The DC, referring to documents he attached, invited the Ombudsman to note that the land Nkuluzado sold to Moyenda changed from 3.3 ha to 4.1 ha, further explaining that Moyenda bought additional hectares separately from Msusa, and not Salile Mdala as Albert Viola alleged.
Piringu said the land was combined later during final survey (in the name of Moyenda Mutharika).
He dismissed allegations that public officers abused their power and benefited from the proceeds of the sale, arguing there was no evidence adduced by the claimant.
“Such a claim is baseless and potentially malicious and injurious to the officers if not supported by evidence,” said Piringu, who made 28 attachments to support the council’s position.
Albert Viola is a retiree of Maldeco Fisheries, and ironically, he petitioned Mutharika in October 2017 when he was president, trying to inform him that some people sold him his land and he wanted to be compensated.
Albert Viola claimed then that the petition never got to the former president because some people allegedly blocked it.
Mutharika, after his loss in the June 23 2020 Fresh Presidential Election, relocated to Mangochi and settled at this land, being a place he constructed his retirement home.
Arthur Masamba, from the former president’s office, is on record to have said Mutharika bought the land through a legitimate process that involved Ministry of Lands and they have documentation to prove that.
He had said the issues coming up could be family matters and the former president did not know Albert Viola and had never dealt with him.
Mkuluzado, a step brother to the Violas, is also on record to have said in earlier interviews that owing to the dispute, the family agreed to have the land sold and share the proceeds between the warring brothers.
He had explained that the land, owing to the continued disagreements between the Viola brothers and as directed by them, was registered in his name, Saulosi Mkuluzado, until it was sold to Mutharika.