The High Court in Lilongwe has ordered that six buses worth K520 million ($750 361) at the heart of Cashgate cases be handed over to the Executive arm of government to dispose of as they wish.
The six Scania Marcopolo semi-luxury coaches have been at National Police Headquarters at Area 30 in Lilongwe since 2013 when Fiscal Police impounded them from the franchise supplier on allegations that they were illegally purchased with funding from the then Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Culture.
Leonard Kalonga, a tourism officer at the ministry at the time, has since pleaded guilty to the charges of money laundering and abuse of office and awaits sentencing.
However, in his confession, Kalonga claimed that it was the then Ministry of Finance budget director Paul Mphwiyo who instructed him to provide K520 million to a Limbikani Gumbo in relation to the buses.
Said Kalonga in his affidavit: “I believed at all material times and I still believe that Mr Mphwiyo was behind the purchase of the six buses from APL [Automotive Products Ltd].”
Mphwiyo and 18 others are facing various charges in relation to the loss of K2.1 billion ($3 million) from government coffers in a case which is expected to resume on May 11.
In her order delivered on Friday, High Court Judge Fiona Mwale, who had earlier denied the State permission to dispose of the buses, said she was satisfied that the case in which the buses are part of had progressed to a stage that their disposal would not affect the outcome.
The State wanted to dispose of the buses using Section 149 (1) of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code which states that the court may order the disposal or forfeiture of property in the course of a trial which may have been used in the commission of a crime.
In its application, the State said it had been a number of years since the buses were purchased and as they lie idle at Area 30, they are deteriorating in condition and depreciating in value.
Ordered the judge: “The Executive arm of the government, which is the rightful owner of the buses, should, therefore, be given ownership so that it may dispose of them as it deems fit.”
Mwale said it was her finding that although the matter was yet to be concluded, the case had sufficiently progressed for the purposes of Section 149 (1) of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code.
Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale, whose office is the legal adviser to government, said he would only advise on the way forward once he has read the court order.
Mphwiyo’s shooting outside the gate of his Area 43 house in Lilongwe on the night of September 13 2013 is widely believed to have exposed the plunder of public resources at Capital Hill later known as Cashgate.
Former president Joyce Banda ordered an audit which British forensic audit firm, Baker Tilly, undertook between April and September 2013 and established that about K24 billion was siphoned from public coffers through dubious payments, inflated invoices and goods or services never rendered.
In May last year, a financial analysis report by audit and business advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) also established that about K577 billion in public funds could not be reconciliated between 2009 and December 31 2014.