The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) is yet to commence trial in the K2.7 billion Malawi police Service (MPS) food ration deal almost two years after concluding investigations in August 2018.
The case involves businessperson Zameer Karim and two senior police officers—commissioner of police Innocent Bottoman and senior superintendent Grant Kachingwe—who are accused of conspiring to use public office for the advantage of Karim, trading as Pioneer Investments, to arbitrarily obtain K2.7 billion from government.
The police officers have been on interdiction for a year and six months following their arrest in December 2018.
In an earlier interview in February this year, ACB director general Reyneck Matemba said he was hopeful that the case would start within six weeks.
But in a written response this week, Matemba explained that there were a number of things that the bureau had to do internally to comply with requirements of the law and criminal procedure, which included compiling disclosures for the defence and the court, hence the delay.
Matemba also attributed further delay to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, saying because of the need to observe preventive measures, operations in most government offices scaled down, including the Judiciary.
Said Matemba: “It is not automatic that once we finish investigating a case, then we immediately take it to court for trial… You may wish to know that this case involves a number of documents, quite cumbersome. But once we manage to get dates for this and other cases, we will duly inform the public.”
Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal registrar Agnes Patemba agreed with Matemba on the threat of Covid-19 on the Judiciary to set cases for trial.
Patemba disclosed that, for instance, some suspects in the Paul Mphwiyo shooting case tested positive to Covid-19 and that the Judiciary is treading carefully, hence scaling down holding of cases.
Lawyer representing Bottoman in the case, Ian Malera, could not be drawn to comment on how the delay to start trial has affected his client who is still on interdiction, saying his client did not authorise him to speak to the media.
Karim’s lawyer, Frank Mbeta, could not be reached on his mobile phone for a comment.
But, in an earlier interview, Mbeta said the suspects were expected to enter plea once the court sets the date.
Meanwhile, the ACB boss has challenged any legally-mandated institution or individual to review the bureaus’ decision that found that former president Peter Mutharika did not personally benefit from the K145 million deposited in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) bank account.
A leaked ACB investigation report showed that Karim deposited the K145 million in the DPP bank account at Standard Bank, whose sole signatory was Mutharika.
The sentiments by Matemba follow an inquiry by Weekend Nationon what the bureau makes of the continued dissatisfaction by some quarters on how a decision to clear the former president was arrived at.
But Matemba said he was aware of the discontentment by some people and said the graft-busting body was free and ready for an external re-examination of its decision on the matter.
He said: “ACB is a public institution that is run on tax-payers’ money and; therefore, we need to be transparent, and accountable to the public for every decision that we make when discharging our duties. If there’s any other legally-mandated institution or individual that may wish to review the decision, that would be a very welcome development.”
He reiterated that ACB also engaged an independent consultant to review the file and came up with a similar legal opinion on the matter.
In January last year, the State applied for the amendment of charges against the three suspects as well as transferring the case from the Magistrate’s Court to the High Court.
Initially, the three were charged with various offences such as theft and acquiring proceeds of crime amounting to K466 million.
Records of case Number 1 586 of 2018 show that Karim and Bottoman were charged with three counts each while Kachingwe, the third accused person, faced one charge.
But the ACB later amended the charges to include money laundering, conspiracy, influencing the use of public office and use of public office for one’s advantage contrary to Section 25 b (1) of the Corrupt Practices Act.