Details have emerged of how some Malawi Police Service (MPS) officers in Karonga are allowing illegal immigrants into Malawi, thereby threateningÂ national security interests.
MPS said last week 12 officers suspected of playing a role have been disciplined internally, but did not specify the punishment. But the service said investigations are still going on and the final disciplinary measures will be taken after the probeâ€™s final report.
Police sources said the immigration syndicate was unraveled by community police officials in the district, some of whom admit to have been part of the racket in the past.
One of the community policing officers (name withheld), who admitted to illegally trafficking the immigrants in the past, said he challenged Karonga Police officer-in-charge (OC) Teresa Nankhuni that he could help secure evidence of the lawÂ enforcersâ€™ involvement.
The source said he had his chance on the night of March 29-30 2012 when a group of people involved in the business planned to transport some Ethiopians.
The illegal immigrants, who court records put at 113, but some say could have been more, were packed in a 10-tonne Isuzu lorry registration BL 6232.
They were packed like maize and covered with a tent to disguise them as goods, our source said.
Explaining how the racket operates, our source said the human traffickers inform police officers at roadblocks that they have â€˜katunduâ€™ (luggage) to transport.
Then they then make cash payments to officers who allow them to pass through the districtâ€™s four major roadblocks between Songwe and Karonga Townâ€”at Iponga, Kaporo, Rukuru and Mwenilondo.
After this, a vehicle which they call a â€˜sweeperâ€™â€”that ensures those manning the roadblocks are cooperatingâ€”drives in front whereas the one carrying the illegal immigrants follows right behind.
â€œWhen they reach the roadblock, the front vehicle makes payments of about K50 000 or more [to police officers manning the roadblock]. Once this is done, the driver of the â€˜sweeperâ€™ calls the one carrying the illegal immigrants [to advise him that the road is safe],â€ said our informant.
On this particular night, said the source, the OC wasÂ tipped-off. She went to check on some roadblocks and was shocked to see that they were open.
â€œThe OC then put police officers after Mwenilondo Roadblock on the MI Road to Mzuzu. I and my friend, also from the community policing, were positioned at [Karonga] roundabout with instructions to inform them when the illegal immigrants passed,â€ said our source.
A few minutes later, the vehicles passed and they alerted the police officers. After passing the last roadblock in Karonga, the Isuzu was intercepted near Mikoma Beach upon which arrests were made and the case went to court.
First grade magistrate Patrick Kamisa ordered the driver, Blessings Viyuyi, to pay a fine of K20 000 or face three months imprisonment with hard labour. He paid the fine and the vehicle was released.
According to the source, another incident happened on the night of 6-7 April 2012 involving a vehicle carrying illegal immigrants, a Scania registration SA 9115 coming from Chitipa.
The source said at Bwiba Roadblock, which is about five kilometres West of Karonga Town, a minibus, whose particulars are not known, appeared and three people came out. Far behind, was the lorry with the illegal immigrants.
However, one of the police officers at the roadblock did not know about the deal and he called for police reinforcements. The lorry then made a U-turn at the roadblock and cruised towards Chitipa Road.
When the reinforcement team arrived, the police officer said there was a vehicle with strange people.
The team followed the vehicle and found it abandoned near Chilambilo Primary School.
In one of the rulings, a magistrate observed that some police officers in Karonga have amassed unexplained wealth and wondered why MPS is not investigating their source.
The court found the owner of the lorry without a case to answer, observing that he mightÂ not have been aware of what his vehicle was being used for. The lorry was also released.
There was another case which happened on January 9, but judgement was passed on April 30 2012. A minibus Toyota Hiace registration BN 7988 belonging to Lawrence Chilunga carried 20 illegal immigrants.
It was intercepted after passing the last roadblock at Mwenilondo.
The driver was Jonas Kanyenda from Kayunga Village, T/A Kyungu in Karonga while the conductor was Joseph Elias from Mkupila Village, T/A Nyachikadza in Nsanje.
First grade magistrate Kamisa, who handled this case when it was brought to court, seemed to be aware of the complaints.
He gave the driver and the conductor a custodial sentence of six months imprisonment each.
Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) district coordinator for Karonga Gracian Mbewe said the only way to solve the problem is to bring in the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to investigate.
This reporter visited Karonga Police Station last Wednesday to talk to OC Nankhuni, but she advised the reporter to first contact National Police spokesperson Davie Chingwalu.
On his part, Chingwalu referred The Nation back to Nankhuni, but later said the police officers who were involved in the syndicate were disciplined internally. He did not specify the disciplinary measures.
But a police officer who asked for anonymity said the police officers were deducted seven days salary (which is less than K5 000). This, the officer said, is peanuts compared to what they get from the trade.
Regional Immigration Officer for the North David Kwanjama said the issue of illegal immigrants is complicated by Malawiansâ€™ involvement.
â€œThose people [immigrants] do not know our country. They are actually being assisted by Malawians to evade security, which is unfortunate,â€ said Kwanjama.
Northern Region Commissioner of Police Wilson Matinga said officers involved in helping the illegal immigrants would be dealt with. He said MPS does not condone such unprofessional behaviour. He also confirmed that investigations are going on to establish police officersâ€™ involvement.