Cashgate convict Oswald Lutepo has linked former Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president John Tembo to Cashgate, telling the court People’s Party (PP) asked him to fund Tembo’s bid for the MCP candidacy in 2014.
Standing in the witness box in the High Court in Lilongwe yesterday, Lutepo, who was in September last year convicted of laundering K4.2 billion on his own plea of guilty, said he gave over K10 million in tranches to businessperson Pika Manondo to source campaign materials such as branded T-shirts for Tembo because he (Manondo) had links to MCP and its machinations.
Lutepo was testifying in the case where former minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs in the PP administration, Ralph Kasambara, is answering charges of conspiracy to commit murder alongside Pika Manondo and former Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldier Macdonald Kumwembe. Manondo and Kumwembe are also answering charges of attempted murder of former Ministry of Finance budget director Paul Mphwiyo.
Lutepo said he deduced that PP, and its leader Joyce Banda, wanted a weaker opposition candidate in Tembo during the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections.
“I was briefed to organise funds to help one of the candidates of the MCP convention. It was money that came from PP, but I don’t remember how much. Since I didn’t know most politicians, I was told that Manondo, following his stay at Parliament, could assist. I gave him the money so he could organise,” he said when questioned by Kumwembe.
While Kumwembe’s line of questioning was stagnant and did not push Lutepo to name the candidate or the amount of money involved, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mary Kachale pushed him to name Tembo during cross-examination.
Said Lutepo: “What I figured later was that his [Tembo] success meant her [Banda] having a weaker opponent in the elections. I don’t remember how much money [in total] I gave to Manondo for the operation, but the last time I gave him a K5 million cheque before the convention.”
He said he carried out orders from PP, but he was not interested in the outcome of the convention or had much knowledge that the MCP constitution barred Tembo from contesting for the presidency, saying: “I had other things to do.”
Lutepo said it was PP deputy director of political affairs Ephraim Chibvunde who introduced Mphwiyo and then Manondo to him.
The morning court session only cemented the fact that Manondo was the intermediary between Mphwiyo and Kasambara at the time leading to Mphwiyo’s shooting on September 13 2013 outside the gate of his Area 43 residence in Lilongwe.
In his testimony, Lutepo also told the court that he was afraid of Kasambara because of the power he wielded as a minister, hence did not directly deal with him in Cashgate—the plunder of public resources at Capital Hill exposed by Mpwhiyo’s shooting.
When Kachale asked Lutepo if he feared Kasambara, Lutepo took a long pause and had to be prompted by presiding judge Michael Mtambo to answer the question or he would be found in contempt of court.
Lutepo also disclosed that private practice lawyer Wapona Kita, who was working for Kasambara’s law firm Ralph & Arnolds at the time, reported to him that the minister wanted Lutepo to claim money found in the custody of former accounts assistant Victor Sithole.
Lutepo also told the court that Manondo lured him into Cashgate.
The DPP asked Lutepo to explain what he made of the relationship between Manondo and both Kasambara and Mphwiyo, to which he responded that it was clear that Manondo was loyal to the former minister.
Lutepo also agreed with Kachale that Manondo’s relationship with Mphwiyo was materialistic while his relationship with Kasambara was loyal.
He said: “To the best of my knowledge, I never discussed Cashgate payments with Kasambara save for the K55 million which Mphwiyo said I should give to Manondo [who] instructed me to write the cheque in the name of Ralph & Arnolds law firm because they were arranging the purchase of a house for Manondo.”
In cross-examination, Manondo attempted to distance himself from the money to Tembo, but fell short of denying that he received the money.
Lutepo is serving an 11-year sentence after he was convicted for conspiracy to defraud the government and money laundering K4.2 billion in 2013.