There were tears at the High Court Lilongwe Registry on Thursday when former Homeland Security minister Uladi Mussa and his two accomplices were each handed jail terms for influencing issuing passports illegally.
A woman, believed to be Mussa’s relation, cried bitterly as the vice-president (Centre) for former governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) walked out of the court in handcuffs, escorted by armed prison warders, to Maula Prison where he began his five-year jail term.
Mussa and former Regional Immigration Officer (Centre) David Kwanjana were each handed prison sentences of 12 months for neglecting public duties and five years for abuse of public office.
However, the two sentences will run concurrently, such that they will each serve five-year jail terms for breaching public trust and illegally issuing passports to foreign nationals.
Their co-accused, Ugandan businessperson Peter Katasha, was handed a four-year prison sentence for influencing a public officer for the benefit of another. He also received an 80-month prison sentence for committing two offences of altering a document. His sentences, too, will run concurrently.
The offences were committed in 2014.
Prior to his conviction last week, Mussa’s lawyer Paul Maulidi in mitigation said his client should not be given a custodial sentence, citing good character, and the Covid-19 pandemic as some of the factors to be considered.
But delivering the ruling, Justice Chifundo Kachale, who is also chairperson of the Malawi Electoral Commission, argued that it would not be proper for the court to give Mussa a non-custodial sentence because he breached public trust.
He said: “Fines are not suitable for this case. Mussa, as a Cabinet minister, preached transparency and accountability. The court is of the view that that behaviour should not be condoned…”
In an interview later, Maulidi said his client will appeal the sentence.
He said: “Obviously we will appeal against the conviction. I have received instruction from my client to appeal against the conviction. We have seen the judgement and have noted several errors on which we can appeal.”
State prosecutor Kamudoni Nyasulu expressed happiness that the case has been concluded.
He said: “The law requires that a public officer’s actions must not be arbitrary, but must follow the law and procedures. I am happy that the case has been concluded.”
As Mussa walked to the vehicle that would transport him to Maula Prison, he tried to grant interviews to the media, but prison officers blocked him.
Commotion ensued thereafter as his supporters and relatives began shouting at prison officers as they whisked Mussa into a vehicle.
Mussa, 55, and Kwanjana were arrested by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in 2017 for granting citizenship to Pascal Rwasa a Burundian and Rwandan Esili Kubwimana, who were accused of benefitting from the process and were acquitted.
As Mussa was being sentenced, his DPP Eastern Region counterpart Bright Msaka was seen in court to offer moral support.
In July 2019, the United States State Department banned Mussa and his wife from visiting the country because of his involvement in the passport scam.
In a statement, the US said it had acted “following credible information” that Mussa was involved in significant corruption while serving as a Cabinet minister.
Mussa and the others were convicted on October 13 this year following a trial that has dragged since March 2017.