Former president Peter Mutharika has asked Standard Bank to unfreeze his bank account frozen by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in August or face legal consequences.
In a letter to Standard Bank dated December 4 2020 signed by lawyer Samuel Tembenu, Tembenu, Masumbu & Company legal firm reminded Standard Bank that the restriction notice on Mutharika’s personal account and the joint account with former first lady Gertude Mutharika expired; hence, the bank should allow the account holders access.
Reads the letter in part: “On the 7th August 2020, your bank was served with a Restriction Notice issued by the Anti-Corruption Bureau under Section 23 [i] of the Corrupt Practices Act [relevant provision attached]. The notice places restriction on the bank not to deal or transact in any way in relation to the above-mentioned accounts unless you have consent of the Director of ACB.
“The notice was valid for a period of three months. We have not been served with any notice of extension nor are we aware of any process to that effect.
“The validity of the notice having expired, our clients now intend to access their accounts. This letter, therefore, serves as notice of our clients’ intention to issue instructions to you, making payments out of any of the above-mentioned accounts.”
The letter warns the bank of legal action if it fails to adhere to the request.
The letter comes days after the ACB last week confirmed hitting a deadlock with Mutharika’s lawyers on the issue and that the parties were scheduled to face in court.
The Mutharikas alongside then State Residences chief of staff Peter Mukhito, Malawi Revenue Authority deputy commissioner general Roza Mbilizi and Mutharika’s personal bodyguard Norman Chisale had their bank accounts frozen in connection with an investigation into the importation of cement worth K5 billion by businessperson Shaffie Chunara allegedly using Mutharika’s privileges as President.
Yesterday, Standard Bank plc head of marketing and communication Thokozani Unyolo could not be reached for the bank’s comment on the development.
On the other hand, ACB director general Reyneck Matemba refused to comment on the expiry of the Restriction Order and subsequent questions.
“I will not comment on the matter,” he said.
A source familiar with the matter said Mbilizi was allowed to access K2 million from her account for medical treatment, but the bureau refused the Mutharikas permission to access their accounts on advice of investigators.
The bureau and Mutharika’s lawyers were due to appear in court on December 22, but in an interview yesterday Tembenu said Mutharika was addressing the bank as there was no longer any valid restriction order.
“The freeze order was never served on our client, but on the bank. The relationship is between the bank and our client, we have written them several letters, which they haven’t responded to us but went to newspapers. The freeze orders were valid for 90 days,” he said.
Tembenu also questioned ACB’s impartiality over the case, saying it was puzzling that while Mutharika has been repeatedly denied access to the account, Mbiliizi was allowed access to hers.
Addressing the press in Lilongwe last Thursday, Matemba confirmed the two sides will appear in court on 22 December after discussions with Mutharika’s lawyers fell through.
“They requested us to unfreeze his accounts and we refused and we both agreed that the court should be involved to make a decision on the matter,” he said.
The law allows the bureau to freeze assets for preservation from disposal of suspected proceeds of crime, pending conclusion of investigations under the Corrupt Practices Act and the Financial Crimes Act.
In September, the bureau indicated that it was allowing Mutharika and other officials whose accounts were frozen to be making drawings for payments of daily necessities.