South African television station e.tv is investigating how the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and a South Africa company Thuso Group Limited accessed and used e.tv programmes on MBC TV without authorisation, Weekend Nation can reveal.
In an interview this week, e.tv spokesperson Vasili Vass said the television station’s mother company, eMedia Group, is also seeking legal advice on how to proceed on the matter.
“The eMedia Group is investigating the matter and taking legal advice on the way forward. We are confident that this is an isolated case and is not common business practice,” reads an e-mail response from Vass.
Meanwhile, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has questioned son to former Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) director general Benson Tembo, Thoko, on his business involvement in Thuso Group Limited, the company that provided the e.tv feed and received K56 million ($94,946) from MBC as payment for the content.
Two sources within ACB said in separate interviews last week that Thoko was questioned in his capacity as director of Thuso Media, a local company that received 75 percent of the millions paid to Thuso Group.
Thoko confirmed being “invited” by ACB, but said he was summoned to the bureau’s offices “as a witness to help them with issues pertaining to Thuso Technologies”.
“I gave relevant information and intend to fully co-oporate with their investigations. Therefore, I hope you will understand that I will not entrust any further information to anyone at this time beyond the interview I gave to ACB,” said Thoko in response to a Weekend Nation questionnaire.
In 2013, Benson Tembo, in his capacity as director general of MBC, signed a one-year contract with Thuso Group which would procure three e.tv programmes-Scandal, Rhythm City and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)-at K84 million ($142,419).
But it later transpired that the e.tv programming, which was curtailed eight months after MBC noted the deal was a loss-making venture, might have been obtained illegally as Thuso Group had no agreement with e.tv.
According to the ACB sources, the bureau’s investigations have revealed that Thoko was director of Thuso Media, a subsidiary of Thuso Group Limited.
The sources said ACB stumbled into Thoko’s connection to Thuso Media as the bureau was scrutinising Thuso Group’s bank accounts in relation to Cashgate investigations at the Malawi Defence Force (MDF).
“ACB got interested in millions of kwacha that MBC paid to Thuso Media, a subsidiary of Thuso Group Limited,” said one of the sources.
The source said ACB investigators discovered that Thuso Media was owned by Ganizani Kuchombo (Thuso Group country director) and Thoko Tembo.
The contract between MBC and Thuso Group indicates that at the time Tembo was signing the agreement, Thuso Media was already in existence and was recognised, in the contract, as a subsidiary for Thuso Group.
Thoko Tembo, responding to a Weekend Nation questionnaire through Facebook admitted to have been involved with Thuso Media, but said his company never had any business with MBC and “has never received any payment from the organisation.”
However, invoices and payment vouchers that Weekend Nation has seen reveal that Thuso Media was actually receiving payment from MBC on behalf of Thuso Group.
A Thuso Group invoice number 0017, dated February 4, 2014 reads in part: “If you are paying in Malawi Kwacha it must be paid to the following account name Thuso Media, FDH Bank, Umoyo Branch, Blantyre.”
Weekend Nation has also seen an MBC payment voucher 8460/000 dated August 5, 2014 authorising the payment of K4.1 million ($6,951.4) to Thuso Media in respect of purchase of e.tv bouquet subscription.
On August 6, 2014, Benson Tembo approved payment of K4.1 million to Thuso Media.
Several payment vouchers and invoices that Weekend Nation has seen bear the signature of Tembo as DG authorising payment to Thuso Media.
The former MBC DG said the public broadcaster only transacted business with Thuso Technologies and not Thuso Media.
“There was a contract with Thuso Technologies Ltd which had acquired rights from e.tv for aggregated programs which were received via satellite through an e.tv decoder. In my time MBC did not transact with a company called Thuso Media,” he said in an e-mail response to a Weekend Nation questionnaire.
MBC public relations officer Thembi Malinki said MBC paid Thuso Media, a locally registered company, under Thuso Group due to forex problems that made it difficult to pay Thuso Technologies directly as it is based in SA.
Malinki said the former DG was better placed to explain why MBC was paying money to Thuso Media when it had no contract with the company.
ACB’s senior public relations officer Egrita Ndala refused to shed light on the investigation, saying: “ACB continues to investigate allegations of misuse of public funds at various institutions. The bureau would not discuss specific issues to do with the investigations as doing so may jeopardise its operations.”
Thuso Group is owned by South African-based Alexander Banda.
Weekend Nation managed to talk to Alexander Banda on his mobile phone in South Africa and he promised to answer a questionnaire sent via e-mail, but Banda has been ignoring subsequent reminders up to the time of going to press.
In the contract, where the names Thuso Group and Thuso Technologies are used interchangeably, Banda is recognised as distribution director for Thuso Technologies and chief operating officer for Thuso Group (Proprietary) Limited. n