The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) which last week froze bank accounts for four people is contemplating to allow one account holder to access the account to enable him or her to pay for medical expenses.
ACB director general Reyneck Matemba in an interview on Wednesday refused to reveal the identity of the individual or the amount of funds being requested but disclosed that the account holder made the request to the bureau this week and the graft-busting body is looking into the issue.
Last week the bureau froze some banks accounts for the former president Peter Mutharika, his wife Gertrude Mutharika, the former president’s top security aide Norman Chisale and Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) former deputy director general Roza Mbilizi in the ongoing investigations into the duty-free importation of cement worth about K5 billion.
Matemba explained that his office is working on the request mindful of the fact that there are a number of decided cases both by the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal and the High Court in granting such access.
Said Matemba: “Courts have in the past allowed people who have had their bank accounts frozen on suspicion of having committed some criminal offences, to have access to some funds from frozen bank accounts, sufficient to meet their reasonable general living expenses as well as medical expenses.
“There is no standard way of determining how much an individual may be allowed to withdraw from a frozen account. This is because reasonable general living expenses vary from one individual to another.
“On our part, what we would need is proof of the individual’s general living expenses on utility and medical bills. In the event that we do not agree, we would obviously have to take recourse to the courts for determination and proper guidance on what constitutes that individual’s general living expenses.”
Matemba said the request for access to the bank account is valid for three months and may be renewed for further periods of three months on application to the magistrate showing cause why the notice should be renewed.
According to Matemba, none of the account holders has so far sought any legal redress to have the accounts unfrozen.
How much is in the frozen accounts also remains a secret. The ACB boss observed that the bureau could not disclose how much is in the frozen accounts as his office is still working with the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) in the investigations.
On the other hand, FIA spokesperson Masauko Ebere said Section 10 of the Financial Crimes Act prohibits the organisation which has powers to trace proceeds of crime with a view to execute preservation and confiscation of the assets from divulging such information to the public.
Commenting on the request made to ACB , Sunduzwayo Madise, Dean of the Faculty of Law at Chancellor College—a constituent college of the University of Malawi—said such a request can be allowed and one can apply to a court or the bureau, as the case may be, to spend for certain things that are essential to life.
“For instance, if one wants the money to travel for medical treatment, ACB can find out if indeed the person has an appointment and needs to travel. The whole reason is to ensure that people don’t use the request just to get money out of the account. But you [also] don’t want to deprive that person from having things that make him or her survive as a person,” explained Madise.
He, however, said there has to be some reasonableness in the amount being requested and in this particular case, ACB has to essentially use its core discretion to determine the reasonable amount.
Madise also asked ACB to be cautious in handling the request to avoid being deemed unreasonable, as all the four people have not been convicted of any crime while others have not been charged or arrested yet.
Last month, police questioned the former president at his Mangochi residence about his involvement in the cement deal. Mutharika has said in a press statement earlier he did not authorise the transaction.
The Fiscal and Fraud Unit of Police also picked up Mbilizi for questioning but police have not disclosed conditions of her release or whether she was charged with any offence.
Mutharika’s wife has not been approached by any known law enforcement agency.
Chisale was first arrested on July 14 2020 in connection with the K5 billion cement deal and charged for fraud and money laundering before he was granted bail on July 17. He was immediately rearrested on a charge of attempted murder involving Sigele Kaipa, a woman he shot in Blantyre.
Chisale is now on remand at Maula Prison on murder charges for his suspected role in the death of former ACB director of corporate affairs Issa Njauju on July 4 2015.
The controversial cement deal involves cement that was imported duty-free from Zambia and Zimbabwe between 2018 and 2019 using Mutharika’s privileges.
In the initial transaction in November 2018, the former president bought 20 000 metric tonnes (MT) or 200 000 bags of cement worth $2 240 000 (about K1.68 billion) from PTC Zimbabwe Limited duty-free. In the second transaction in July 2019, Mutharika purchased the same quantity from Prestige Export based at Chipata in Zambia.