Cashgate convict Leonard Kalonga yesterday told the High Court in Lilongwe that former Ministry of Finance budget director Paul Mphwiyo and others lured him into the plunder of public resources at Capital Hill.
Standing in the witness box in the High Court sitting at the Lilongwe City Council chamber to comfortably accommodate the 18 suspects, their lawyers and well-wishers, a calm and composed Kalonga told presiding judge Esme Chombo that it all started with a conversation he had with a Mr Makina, his friend who was working for the Accountant General’s Department before he was appointed to a diplomatic post in Zimbabwe, in April 2013.
He said: “I envied and admired him [Makina] as someone taking up a diplomatic post. And in the course of our conversation, he said he could introduce me to people who matter in government for me to excel in my career as well as if I cherish[ed] dreams of being posted to diplomatic missions.”
In the case, Mphwiyo and 17 others are charged with conspiracy to defraud government, holding property belonging to government, theft, money laundering, fraudulently issuing 24 cheques worth K2.4 billion, abuse of public office and usage of proceeds of crime.
Kalonga, who was convicted on his own plea of guilty in August 2015 and is awaiting sentencing, told the court that Makina then made a call from his mobile phone to an undisclosed person. He said the call was introducing him (Kalonga) to “people who matter in government”.
He quoted Makina as having told him that he had introduced him (Kalonga) to a top government official. He said Makina also gave him the gentleman’s phone number.
Kalonga—who was convicted of charges of conspiracy to defrauding government, facilitating money laundering and money laundering—said the top official later turned out to be Mphwiyo, first accused in the Cashgate case he is co-accused with 18 others.
He said Mphwiyo advised him to meet him at a filling station along Ufulu Road in Area 43 off the Lilongwe-Kasungu section of the M1 Road.
Said Kalonga: “It was on a Saturday when we met at this place. I can’t remember very well the actual date of our meeting, but it was before my birthday, which falls on 14th April.
“I was the first to arrive at the venue of our meeting. As soon as I had seen the car, I realised that I knew the gentleman to be Mr. Mphwiyo. I used to admire his car as someone who used to sell used cars imported from Japan.”
He said Mphwiyo briefed him about the “people that matter in government”.
Kalonga said the former budget director said “the people that matter in government” are the President—then Joyce Band—and other top officials.
During the discussion, Kalonga told the court, Mphwiyo sought to know his position at the then Ministry of Tourism and Culture. He said he told Mphwiyo that he was assistant director (Planning and Development) and Mphwiyo suggested that Kalonga should convince the ministry’s chief accountant (George Banda) to be at the centre of siphoning money out of public coffers.
Kalonga said the following Monday he sold the idea to Banda and enthused to him on the benefits that would accrue from the scheme. Banda is alleged to have willingly bought the idea and asked Kalonga to arrange a meeting with Mphwiyo to discuss the whole concept.
Said Kalonga: “He [Mphwiyo] advised us to make a request of additional funding which he would facilitate payment. He said this money would be collected and used by the ruling political party [People’s Party-PP]. This is the money the President used to dish out during her political rallies.”
To kick-start the scheme, Kalonga said, they drafted a letter requesting additional funding worth K70 million.
He said Mphwiyo later asked him (Kalonga) and Banda to start identifying suppliers of goods and services who would be used in the Cashgate crime. n