Embattled former Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda and two others spent last night in police custody following their arrests on Wednesday morning by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).
They were denied bail.
Chaponda, who is Mulanje South West member of Parliament and vice-president (South) for the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was arrested alongside businessperson Rashid Tayub, director of Transglobe Produce Export Limited—a locally registered farm produce trading company—and Grace MijigaMhango, an entrepreneur and chairperson of the Grain Traders and Processors Association of Malawi (GTPA).
The graft busting body arrested the trio in connection with their respective roles in the dubious procurement and importation of maize from Zambia in an attempt to fight off a food shortage.
Chaponda and Tayub spent their night at Blantyre Police Station while Mhango was kept at Lilongwe Police Station after her interrogation at ACB head office in Lilongwe.
The former minister, regarded as one of the most influential politicians in DPP, handed himself to ACB offices in Blantyre just before 8:30am on Wedneesday after the ACB summoned him for interrogation on his role in the maize deal.
Immediately after Chaponda surrendered himself, ACB director of legal and prosecutions ChrispinKhunga told journalists that the former minister was under arrest after the bureau obtained a warrant of arrest against him last week.
Said Khunga: “The ACB has invited the former minister to hear his side of the story after conducting its investigations. The bureau obtained a warrant of arrest in the course of last week and that warrant has been executed today. Once a caution statement has been taken from him, the bureau will take him to court.”
However, his suspected accomplice, Tayub, also handed himself to ACB just before midday.
In a statement issued earlier in the day, the ACB said Chaponda was likely to be charged with “corruptly performing public functions, misuse of public office and possession of foreign currency” contrary to Section 25A(1), 25B (1) of the Corrupt Practices Act (CPA) and Regulation 25A(1) of the Exchange Control Regulations as read with Section 3 of the Exchange Control Act respectively.
The bureau also said Mhango would be charged with “forgery” contrary to Section 351 of the Penal Code while Tayub was expected to answer charges of influencing a public officer to misuse public office contrary to Section 25B (2) of the CPA.
In an interview Wednesday evening, ACB deputy director general Reyneck Matemba said the three would spend their night in custody and would be taken to court for bail proceedings today morning.
The arrests come nearly six months after the ACB started investigating the alleged illegal actions in the procurement of 100 000 tons of maize from Zambia by the State produce marketer Agriculture Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc).
As part of its investigations, the bureau sent its investigators to Zambia in January this year where together with their counterpart, Anti-Corruption Commission of Zambia, interviewed various people with relevant information to the issue.
After the investigations into the matter which were executed by two separate commissions of inquiry—one instituted by President Peter Mutharika and the other by Parliament—the commissions recommended that the minister be investigated because of his role in the deal.
In February, ACB conducted a search and seizure operation in offices and residences of Chaponda and other people after it obtained search and seizure warrants from the court.
Last month, Chaponda said he was ready to be arrested for any wrong-doing and accused Malawians of condemning him for doing what he thought was for the benefit of starving Malawians.