People locked away in prison are not supposed to commit crimes but Weekend Nation investigations reveal that a recent wave of mobile money theft had mostly been perpetrated by men behind bars.
Malawi Prison Service (MPS) officials confirmed in interviews this week that some prisoners are committing the crimes aided by corrupt prison warders.
This follows the arrest in Mangochi of an ex-convict Henry Bauleni, 31, who had duped people through mobile money service transactions from his jail cell.
Police also arrested two convicts at Zomba Maximum Prison, a prison warder James Banda, 45, and a civilian Bartholomew Njala for duping mobile money service customers out of K150 000.
The prisoners Stonken Chavunda, 32, and Batson Fletcher, 36, were both serving 50-year jail terms, according to police.
A prison search operation at Zomba Maximum Prison recently found over 700 mobile phones that some prisoners were using in committing crime.
With a phone an inmate is capable to link up with colleagues outside to plan robberies, defraud mobile money service users and recruit criminals for heists, among other criminal activities.
A prison official who opted for anonymity alleged that some prison officers receive bribes and provide prohibited items to inmates such as mobile phones and chargers, among others, to enable them commit such crimes.
“In turn, the convicts use the illegally acquired items to revive and sustain their criminal enterprises while in incarceration,” he said.
The official said some prison warders pocket over K20 000 to smuggle a mobile phone into prison.
“Imagine if three or four prisoners offer you that money for your assistance. Who can resist such an offer, but once the deal is done and the prisoner is caught with that phone that’s his problem,” the source said.
The source said Zomba Maximum Prison tops the list of number of inmates illegally possessing mobile phones.
With nearly 2 000 inmates and majority of them being hardcore criminals—some serving life imprisonments and others facing the death penalty—the prison is one of the most difficult to manage, he said.
But in a telephone interview on Friday, Zomba Prison spokesperson Allan Sizek said warders visit cells of hardcore inmates regulary.
However, National Prison spokesperson Chimwemwe Mike Shawa conceded Tuesday that the service has a few bad apples but said measures are in place to discipline those who stray.
For example, he said, four warders have in the last four years been apprehended for smuggling unwanted items into prisons. Two of the officers were dismissed.
“The other two were arrested for illegally providing inmates with mobile phones, said Shawa, who refused to give more information.
Parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee chairperson Maxwell Thyolera observed that the amount of confisticated items at Zomba Prison is proof that the facility’s search and monitoring systems are seriously breached.