Former president Peter Mutharika’s lawyer Samuel Tembenu on Tuesday said the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has demonstrated a “high level of crookedness” in a case in which Mutharika is challenging the bureau’s decision to freeze his bank accounts.
Tembenu said this in an interview on Tuesday soon after the High Court in Blantyre completed hearing the case in which his client, Mutharika, wants the graft-busting body to unfreeze his bank accounts.
He said he was shocked in the chamber when ACB chief legal and prosecution officer Victor Chiwala, who is representing the bureau, introduced a notice showing an extension of the restriction of his client’s personal account and joint account with former first lady Gertrude Mutharika.
Tembenu, who is also former minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs in Mutharika’s administration, claimed that he was only aware of the first three months’ notice that the ACB issued on August 7 which expired on December 7 this year.
He said: “While we were in court [on Tuesday], we just discovered that, in what can only be described as high level of crookedness on the part of a State institution, behind everybody else, they went to the magistrate’s court without even inviting the applicant and obtained an extension.
“They hid that fact. We only came to know about it today [on Tuesday] in court and even the [High Court] Judge [Rowland Mbvundula] was surprised. They [ACB] have been hiding about that, yet we have been talking to each other. So, that’s why I am saying there is a high level of crookedness on the part of State institution called the ACB.”
Tembenu claimed they wrote the ACB to allow Mutharika have access to his personal account so that he meets some of his expenses, but the bureau did not do that.
Chiwala confirmed that Mutharika is not accessing any money from the frozen bank accounts.
This contradicts ACB’s earlier statement in September this year that the bureau was allowing Mutharika and other officials whose accounts were frozen to make withdrawals on request to enable them to pay for their daily necessities.
Asked how Mutharika is surviving since all his bank accounts are frozen, Tembenu was elusive on the matter.
He said: “He is surviving, but he is facing hardships because he can’t access his money. Surprisingly, others have been allowed access, but he alone has been denied.”
But in a separate interview, Chiwala argued that removing the restriction notice means killing the case; hence, their decision to obtain another restriction notice which will expire on March 7 2021.
He said: “If they are found guilty, the bank accounts will be used to recover the money.”
According to both Chiwala and Tembenu, Mbvundula has since given them up to January 4 2021 to make their final submissions before delivering his judgement on the matter.
In August this year, the ACB froze bank accounts of Mutharika, his wife Gertrude, former State Residences chief of staff Peter Mukhitho, former Malawi Revenue Authority deputy commissioner general Roza Mbilizi and Mutharika’s personal bodyguard Norman Chisale.
The decision was made in connection with an investigation ACB made into an alleged importation of cement worth K5 billion by businessperson Shaffie Chunara allegedly using Mutharika’s privileges as head of State.
Section 23 (1) of the Corrupt Practices Act gives the bureau powers to freeze assets for preservation from disposal of suspected proceeds of crime pending conclusion on investigations.