Crowd-pulling preacher Apostle Joseph Ziba retained his freedom yesterday, a day after his arrest on allegation of committing tax offences.
Blantyre senior resident magistrate Viva Nyimba ordered the release of Ziba, who is founder and president of Fountain of Victory International Ministries, upon payment of K200 000 cash bail bond.
The court also ordered the man of God to present two people as sureties, surrender his travel documents to police and report at Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) head office fortnightly on Mondays.
Ziba was arrested on Wednesday for allegedly obstructing MRA officers on duty. He was arrested alongside businessperson Tayub Aziz who sold him a top-of-the-range Range Rover vehicle whose duty estimated at K26 million was yet to be cleared.
Private practice lawyer Wanangwa Hara, who is representing Ziba, said in an interview that his client appeared before the court for the cancellation of the warrant of arrest and Ziba’s release with or without bail.
He said: “But essentially the parties reached a consensus that he should be released and that the rest of the issues will be read at a later date.”
Hara said the Blantyre-based preacher was yet to be charged; hence, did not take any plea yesterday.
However, a statement issued by Ziba’s ministry public relations director Wanangwa Nthara said the apostle is “an innocent victim of well-calculated and well-organised criminal activities within the system of second hand car trading”.
It reads in part: “The apostle has been a law abiding citizen, and never broken any law in Malawi before and has always met his legal and civil obligations. As a church we respect the law and authorities and we leave to MRA and the courts to handle the matter.”
But in a statement issued yesterday, the public tax collector said they arrested Ziba and Aziz on allegation of committing various tax offences contrary to provisions of the Customs and Excise Act and Value Added Tax (VAT) Act.
“MRA investigations revealed that Ziba failed to comply with customs laws by being found in possession of goods subject to customs control; namely, a motor vehicle 2014 Range Rover Sport registration TO 8368, thereby defrauding the Government of Malawi of its legitimate revenue,” reads the statement signed by MRA head of corporate affairs Steven Kapoloma.
The statement said the vehicle in question did not appear in MRA’s Automated System for Customs Data (Asycuda) system and that the customs clearance documents presented to the Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services to register the vehicle were not for the aforesaid motor vehicle.
Asycuda is a computerised system designed by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) to administer a country’s customs.
Further reads the MRA statement: “Aziz also registered a Toyota Fortuner without a proper customs clearance certificate, thereby evading payment of customs duty and defrauding the Government of Malawi of its legitimate revenue.”
In another development, MRA on the same Wednesday also arrested Wuquan Chen, trading as Jiabin Commodity Store, for being suspected of fraudulently using an electronic fiscal device (EFD) with intent to evade VAT.