Former minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda and his alleged accomplices walked to freedom last evening after spending Wednesday night at the Blantyre Police Station.
Blantyre chief resident magistrate Simeon Mdeza granted bail to Chaponda and Rashid Tayub, director of Transglobe Produce Export Limited, with six bail conditions after the two handed themselves to the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) on Wednesday morning following their respective warrants of arrest dated July 14 2017.
Chaponda and Tayub endured a 10-hour interrogation session at ACB offices in Blantyre on Wednesday.
Prior to the bail application hearing, earlier in the day, defence lawyers applied to the court to have the warrant of arrest suspended on grounds that, among others, the State through the ACB had “blatantly and fragrantly as well as contumaciously and contumeliously disobeyed the imprimatur”, terms and prescriptions contained in the warrant.
The third suspected accomplice, Grace Mijiga Mhango, a Lilongwe-based businessperson and chairperson of Grain Traders and Processors Association of Malawi (GTPA), was also released earlier in the day by the Lilongwe Magistrate’s Court.
In his ruling on the application to suspend the warrant of arrest, Mdeza said the court could not suspend the warrant of arrest. Instead, he ordered the ACB to bring the suspects before the court this morning (today) for further determination and if it fails the court would order their release unconditionally.
This decision compelled the defence team comprising Jai Banda, Lusungu Gondwe and Frank Mbeta to later file for bail application which the court granted after ACB said it had no objection as it had already completed its investigations on the suspects.
In granting bail, after a two-hour hearing, the court ordered Chaponda and Tayub to, among others, pay K200 000 cash bond, produce two sureties bonded to government worth K2 million each non cash and to report to ACB offices on Mondays every fortnight.
They were also ordered to surrender their travel documents to ACB, always notify ACB every time they want to travel outside Blantyre and the country and also not to interfere with the witnesses.
Chaponda and Tayub were charged with the offences of misuse of public office and possession of foreign currency without the lawful justification and influencing a public officer to misuse public office respectively and have since pleaded not guilty to all the offences.
The court has set August 9, 10, 11 and 14 as dates for hearing the case.
In an interview later, Banda said the defence was set for trial as their clients want to be vindicated after the public courts found them guilty.
On his part, ACB deputy director general Reyneck Matemba said they did not mind if the accused persons were granted bail because they believed the accused would not interfere with either investigations or witnesses.
Since the Maizegate issue came to light, the matter has generated significant public interest with civil society organisations being in the forefront calling for Chaponda’s arrest.
The ACB arrested the three in connection with their role in the dubious procurement and importation of maize from Zambia in an attempt to fight off food shortage that had wrecked the country following a poor harvest.
The arrests come nearly six months after the ACB started investigating the alleged illegal actions in the procurement of 100 000 tons of maize from Zambia by the produce traderAgriculture Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc).
In February, ACB conducted a search and seizure operation in offices and residences of Chaponda and other people after it obtained search and seizure warrants from the court.
Last month, Chaponda, who is also member of Parliament (MP) of Mulanje West Constituency, said he was ready to be arrested for any wrong-doing and accused Malawians of condemning him for doing what he thought was for the benefit of starving Malawians.