Barely one week after members of Parliament (MPs) called for a probe into 250 “missing” blank passport books, government has dispatched investigators to South Africa to establish circumstances that led to the scam.
The investigation team, led by a senior official from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security, left the country on Sunday and is expected to conduct its investigations for seven days, according to authorities.
In an interview yesterday, Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security Principal Secretary Sam Madula said the investigators also include officers from the Department of Immigration and the Malawi Police Service fiscal section.
He said the team’s main task is to interrogate the Nigerian national who was arrested after being found using one of the missing passports numbered MW 853507 on his way to London in the United Kingdom (UK). The Nigerian posed as a Malawian answering to the name Vincent Banda from Mangochi, officials said.
Said Madula: “We wrote the South African Government and we have agreed that they should interview the person [Nigerian] who was found with the passport. But we are also carrying out other investigations.”
He said the investigators will be assisted by an immigration officer stationed at the Malawi High Commission in South Africa and South African government officials.
Madula added that upon the discovery that the 250 passports were missing, government alerted all countries in the world and shared serial numbers for the missing passport booklets.
“So, the Nigerian didn’t know that and that was how he was arrested. But besides that, we are also carrying out other investigations through other governments’ agencies like the police then we are also working with the Interpol [international police] and the International Civil Aviation Organisation [Icao].
“We want to get to the bottom of the issue and understand what really happened for such a huge consignment to miss,” he said.
The issue of missing blank passport booklets came to light in Parliament on May 18 this year when Mzimba West MP Harry Mkandawire (People’s Party-PP) raised it in the National Assembly. The legislator presented copies of Banda’s travel document.
According to Mkandawire, on December 29 2016 the Department of Immigration received a consignment of passport books from Techno Brain Printers, the supplier of the books, whose quantity was short with one box containing 250 blank passports.
Mkandawire claimed that Chief Immigration Officer Masauko Medi went ahead to sign for the less quantity after his stores officer had reportedly refused to do so. The serial numbers of the missing passports were from MW 853501 to 853750.
Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security Grace Chiumia confirmed knowledge of the issue and the syndicate and told Parliament that the matter was already being investigated.
She also said all the missing passports had since been declared null and void.
But Chiumia’s explanation did not impress the MPs, especially from the opposition, who accused government of “knowing something” about the passport scam.
Some MPs also proposed that the parliamentary committees on Defence and Security and that of Government Assurances, which is also chaired by Mkandawire, should investigate the matter. n