Malawi Police Service has released on bail, albeit without charges, three people arrested for allegedly establishing a parallel Lands office and selling plots to unsuspecting buyers using dubious documentation.
The three, arrested on Thursday before their release on Friday, were identified as Mustag Mahomed, Chifuniro Simumbe and lawyer Umahu Mataka. A fourth suspect, Alex Mawaya, was said to be at large as we went to press.
Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Principal Secretary Joseph Mwandidya confirmed the busting of the syndicate.
He said: “It is true that together with police we arrested the three men. One of them, the lawyer, was arrested on Wednesday evening while the other two were arrested on Thursday evening. They will be charged soon and the police will be in a better position to indicate the charges against them.”
Mwandidya said the busting of the parallel Lands office has connected the missing links his ministry encounters daily as people complain about having their plots sold or one plot sold to more than one buyer.
He said: “We have complaints often at our office where people complain of their plots being sold without their knowledge.”
Information corroborated with the ministry indicates that about six plots have since been confirmed to have been sold, but the proceeds were not remitted to the Malawi Government Account Number One.
The six plots fraudulently sold include plot number Area 47/1219 allegedly sold by Mahomed at K300 million while Simumbe and Mawaya are suspected to have sold plot numbers Area 43/999, Area 43/998, Area 43/995, Area 43/994 and Area 43/993 at K50 million each.
Private practice lawyer Chikosa Silungwe, who has done international consultancies on land issues, described the busting of the ring as confirmation of corruption in transactions relating to land in the country.
He said: “This confirms that there corruption in land transactions in Malawi which needs to be dealt with. There is need to revamp the land registry system, create an electronic one with various access authorities for various levels of officers.”
Silungwe observed that the current system is easy to tamper with because it is manual and that even junior officers can sign what would purport to be a bona fide title deed document.
In the current busted syndicate, Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development sources indicated that two of the rounded up suspects have strong connections with politicians in power.
The official also described as strange the release of the trio without being taken to court to be formally charged.
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera on Thursday said he had no details on the arrests while yesterday prayed for more time.
Issues of dubious land deals are not new in Malawi, especially in Lilongwe, as many people have complained of being duped.
In 2018, current Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Symon Vuwa Kaunda, then serving as an adviser to President Peter Mutharika, lost about K1.4 million in a fake plot allocation by one Felix Mangani who masqueraded as controller of Lands.
Besides Kaunda, there were several public officers, including Cabinet ministers, who made deposits to the same NBS Bank current account 14411631 under the name G. Kaunga, the suspected fraudster. Investigations established that concerned officials made their deposits into Kaunga’s NBS Bank and Airtel Money accounts between February 2017 and February 2018.