Former president Joyce Banda has dismissed as “fabrication” government’s Thursday announcement that it has handed over CCTV footage of the former president meeting Cashgate suspect Oswald Lutepo to the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).
During a press briefing, Minister of Information and Civic Education Kondwani Nankhumwa told journalists on Thursday in Lilongwe that government had already handed over footage of 23 meetings, some of them one-on-one between Banda and Lutepo to the bureau.
He said the development follows Lutepo’s allegations in the local media that he was used as a conduit to siphon off billions of public funds through dubious deals by the former president.
But Banda, in a press statement yesterday, said the CCTV system of the State residences does not function, hence said the move was aimed at diverting attention away from pressing economic and political woes.
“While we do not want to compromise state security, it is important to inform the nation that CCTV cameras at all state residences have not been functional for some time until the time Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda left office as Head of State. At Kamuzu Palace, for instance, the CCTV cameras stopped working in 2010 during the reign of the late President Bingu wa Mutharika. It is, therefore, surprising for government to claim they have the said CCTV footage,” reads the statement.
Banda further stated that the move by government vindicates her fears that some quarters are using Lutepo as “a pawn to drag her name in the mud”.
“It is a source of great concern that Government seems to have abrogated its core duty of ‘governing’ and has instead assumed the role of an investigator, at least if the press conference that the Honourable Minister of Information addressed on Thursday, December 4, 2014, is anything to go by.
“The former President would like to reiterate that Malawians and the country’s leadership must concentrate more on dealing with the worsening political, social and economic situation than being preoccupied with persecuting perceived political enemies,” reads the statement.
Nankhumwa could not immediately be reached for comment on the matter yesterday, but on Thursday he dismissed fears that the move was part of a witch-hunt against Banda, the country’s first-ever female president.
“We are just continuing the same investigation that started way back after the report was released,” said Nankhumwa.
However, he refused to reveal contents of the footage, only saying the footage was taken from four State residences, covering 23 meetings between December 2012 and September 2013.
“Much as we know that Malawians would have loved the recordings to be paraded in public, government legal advisers and the prosecution team have strongly recommended that these items be left in the hands of ACB for further investigation and scrutiny so that they might later make an independent decision on whether the footage and registers can be used as evidence in court in the ongoing Cashgate cases,” added Nankhumwa.
Quizzed if the State will specifically request Banda, who is currently outside the country, to return and clear her name, Nankhumwa said government was not on a witch-hunt and would not make the call unless investigators found any tangible evidence of her complicity.
However, mystery continues to surround the footage’s existence and its legal implications.
While Nankhumwa said the bureau has already surrendered the evidence to ACB, the bureau’s director Lukas Kondowe told journalists at a late afternoon briefing that the bureau was yet to receive the footage.
“I am not aware of any CCTV footage that has been transferred to us at this stage. Maybe it’s on the way,” said Kondowe.
He also refused to say whether the bureau was now specifically investigating Banda, insisting questions on the matter bordered on operational integrity of the bureau. He, however, revealed the bureau is yet to interrogate Lutepo on the allegations.
“We will analyse the evidence if it comes. We can either use such evidence to aid our investigations or if we deem it to have evidence which can be used in court, we can keep it for that purpose,” added Kondowe.
The bureau said while it was ready to meet Lutepo on the allegations, it will not court the suspect for a hearing, but would gladly welcome him if he volunteers to testify to the body.