The High Court in Lilongwe yesterday sentenced 10 people to between two and five years imprisonment for abuse of public funds at the Ministry of the Elderly and Disability Affairs in 2010.
Presiding judge Charles Mkandawire convicted the 10 for offences of theft, conspiracy and money laundering on January 10 this year, but after considering mitigation factors they presented in court, he handed them the sentences yesterday.
The 10 are Cornellius Kaphamtengo and his wife Yvonne, Chikondi Chimutu, Emmanuel Yesaya, Deusdedit Tenthani, Tendai Nayeja, Conrad Nambala, Square Chakwana, Wides Mbuliro and Tapiwa Ng’oma.
In his judgement, the judge mentioned that the convicts connived to commit the crime because, during the trial, it emerged that money was systematically stolen from the public purse through dubious payments to Nova Tech firm owned by the Kaphamtengos.
Reacting to the ruling, lawyer Justin Dzonzi described the sentence as lenient, noting that the offences at hand were serious as millions of kwacha in public funds ended up in private pockets.
He said: “The maximum sentence for the offence is eight years and if that is the case, the judge has no jurisdiction to give higher penalties.”
While noting that the sentences were lenient, Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) director general Reyneck Matemba welcomed it on condition that the convicts were arrested and prosecuted during the time when the old law was not amended.
He said: “The time when offences were committed is the time we charged them using the Money Laundering, Proceeds of Serious Crime and Terrorist Financing Act which by then provided a maximum of 10 years imprisonment. It would have been a different situation if cases were committed now because of the new Financial Crimes Act.”
The Financial Crimes Act of 2017 provides for a maximum of life imprisonment to a person found guilty of committing an offence of money laundering while the old Act provided for the maximum imprisonment of 10 years with K2 million attached.
To a business entity, the new law prescribes a penalty of K500 million and revocation of business licence for committing the same offence of money laundering.
The judge categorised offences into three with the first category of those who got between K5 million and K10 million getting two years imprisonment while those who stole between K10 million and K20 million will stay behind bars for three years and those who stole between K20 million and K40 million were slapped with five years imprisonment.
Initially, there were 14 people, among them government accountants and private sector individuals, accused of allegedly conspiring to steal K201 million from government.
During an earlier hearing, the court learnt that subsequent revelations of the plunder of public resources in 2013 dubbed Cashgate was an upgrade of the theft of public money by the suspects between 2010 and 2011. n