The High Court of Malawi has found former Ministry of Finance budget director Paul Mphwiyo and 17 others with a case to answer in connection with alleged theft and money laundering of K2.4 billion in public funds.
Presiding judge Esmie Chombo, who was unable to pronounce the verdict last Wednesday because two of the suspects failed to show up for the hearing, delivered the judgement seven years after events of September 2013—starting with the shooting of Mphwiyo at the gate of his Area 43 house in Lilongwe—shocked the world and exposed what became the country’s biggest corruption scandal branded Cashgate.
Dressed in a business suit and neck-tie, Mphwiyo—who once received a standing ovation at Parliament after testifying on his role in the scandal—looked calm and composed as the judge read out her short judgement.
Ironically, Chombo convicted Mphwiyo’s assailants in the September 13 2013 shooting.
The ruling means that Mphwiyo and the others will now have to provide evidence to defend themselves against the evidence of the State which earlier paraded 35 witnesses and tendered 300 exhibits allegedly implicating the suspects.
Immediately after the judgement was delivered, lawyers representing the suspects asked the court for a 45-day adjournment to prepare for the case.
They later applied that the judgement be put aside pending an appeal in the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal on whether the High Court can continue hearing the case after their clients questioned the charges laid against them.
But Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mary Kachale objected to both applications, arguing that they smacked of “delay tactics”.
She said the court should proceed with the hearing while waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on the application. She also asked the court to give the defence 15 days to prepare for the case.
In an interview, Mphwiyo’s lawyer Shadreck Mhango said his client was among the eight suspects who have appealed to Supreme Court to throw out the High Court trial.
“We had hoped that the first accused person will not be found with a case to answer, but then a ruling can only go one way. We are ready to proceed to the next stage of the case and parade witnesses,” he said.
Mphwiyo—whom then president Joyce Banda claimed was shot for allegedly exposing Cashgate—is the high-profile suspect in the dock alongside then Accountant General David Kandoje, senior Treasury colleagues and businesspersons.
Mphwiyo’s shooting is widely attributed to have led to revelations of the plunder of public resources at Capital Hill.
The then president, Banda, ordered an audit which British forensic auditor, Baker Tilly, undertook for a randomly selected six months period between April and September 2013. The audit established that about K24 billion was siphoned from public coffers through dubious payments, inflated invoices and goods or services never rendered.
In May 2015, a financial analysis report by audit and business advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) also established that about K577 billion in public funds could not be reconciliated between 2009 and December 31 2014. The amount was later reconciled to K236 billion by another audit firm.