Embattled Minister of Energy Newton Kambala and his two co-accused in the multi-billion kwacha National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) fuel imports deal remained silent during a 10-hour Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) interrogation.
Sources at the graft-busting agency confided to The Nation that Kambala, President Lazarus Chakwera’s adviser on strategy Chris Chaima-Banda and Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Enoch Chihana—who were arrested on Monday for alleged attempts to offer bribes to officials at Nocma purportedly to influence the awarding of contracts for fuel supply—were separately quizzed by ACB officials.
The sources said the suspects were asked questions based on secret voice recordings and text messages obtained by then Nocma acting chief executive officer Helen Buluma during meetings with some of the accused and from a meeting attended by Ministry of Energy officials and others.
“The recordings include phone calls between Ms. Buluma and presidential aide Chris Banda and several phone text messages,” said one of the sources.
The ACB case is centred on allegations that Kambala allegedly gave instructions to Nocma to favour suppliers named as Trafigura, Oryx and Finery while Banda also allegedly pressured and threatened Nocma officials while demanding awarding of contracts to the same companies.
ACB director general Martha Chizuma yesterday refused to comment on the day’s proceedings, saying the bureau does not speak on operational details.
But two sources close to the investigation corroborated details to The Nation.
In an interview after the interrogation, lawyer George Mtchuka Mwale, who is representing Kambala, said the investigation was surrounding allegations of offering bribes and abuse of office.
However, he did not divulge more details.
Mwale said: “They have asked questions and recorded statements.”
On whether the questions revolved around bribery and abuse of office, the lawyer responded affirmatively, saying: “The questions are along those lines.”
Earlier, during a recess, Chihana told The Nation he was informed about his charges which he said involved alleged offering of a bribe and aiding and abetting a crime.
He said he was surprised by his arrest because the ACB had not previously interviewed him to hear his side of the story.
The trio spent their second night in police custody yesterday as the ACB indicated it may take them to court today.
Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on the President to dismiss Kambala from Cabinet and Chaima Banda from State Residences payroll.
In a statement yesterday, the National Anti-Corruption Alliance (NAAC) said the President must fire the two immediately.
In the statement signed by its chairperson Moses Mkandawire, NAAC said: “…the Alliance calls upon President Chakwera to show decisive leadership by firing the minister and his adviser to make way for effective investigations and prosecutions of the matter.
“The ACB investigation notwithstanding, the President should commit to an investigation into how such conduct is able to happen within inner circles of government.
“Considering the recent loans Bill debacle, such an investigation should reflect on the recruitment and supervision of government officials and the policies and procedures which govern their conduct.”
In an interview, governance expert Henry Chingaipe, weighing on the same, said in mature democracies Kambala and Chaima Banda would have resigned immediately on their own to fight the allegations outside office.
He said in the absence of voluntary action, the President should fire the two.
But Chingaipe said the President might be waiting for appropriate time, particularly for the two, to be formally charged.
He said: “My further guess is that if the ACB will bring charges against them, they will either resign or the President will be compelled to relieve them of their duties.
“Learning from the experience of the removal of Minister of Labour Ken Kandodo, the President is likely to be slow to act until the ACB shows that there are cases to be answered by the three.”
Chingaipe said on the flipside, maintaining the arrested officials in their positions could also backfire on the President by “propelling the rhetoric that the Tonse Government is reneging on its commitment to fight corruption”.
Meanwhile, the governing Tonse Alliance partner UTM Party, where Kambala is a senior member, yesterday was forced to appeal to its supporters to stop assembling at the bureau’s head office in Mulanje House at City Centre after several officials clad in party regalia and supporters ferried in party branded vehicles were seen in the vicinity.
There were also pockets of some clad in colours of Aford, another Tonse Alliance partner.