Some close relations of business mogul and philanthropist Thom Mpinganjira could not hold back tears yesterday immediately after High Court of Malawi Judge Dorothy DeGabrielle pronounced a nine-year custodial sentence for him in the judge bribery case.
His sister and several others wept as they waved at the 60-year-old business mogul in handcuffs, sandwiched between armed police officers and prison warders heading to the police armoured vehicle for Chichiri Prison, a stone’s throw away from the High Court of Malawi premises in Blantyre.
Mpinganjira himself looked downcast as did his other close relatives and associates who wore sombre faces.
Dressed in a pin-stripped dark blue business suit complemented with a white shirt and navy-blue necktie with white dots as well as a blue face mask, the convicted business mogul declined to speak to the media as he took fast paces surrounded by the police officers, prison warders and relatives.
Prior to the judge’s delivery of the sentence, Mpinganjira looked calm and composed as he walked into the courtroom at 9:34am for the session scheduled for 10am.
The judge walked into the courtroom at 10:19am and went straight into the day’s business of meting out the sentence. Mpinganjira was seen attentively listening to the sentencing while leaning against the edges of the dock.
Immediately after the judge dropped the bombshell, Mpinganjira and his relatives looked down in disbelief while some were seen wiping off tears.
In delivering the sentence, DeGabrielle said the offences which Mpinganjira was convicted of were serious and stressed that he acted with impunity by attempting to use his fortune and influence in society to divert the course of justice.
The judge observed that while Mpinganjira’s lawyers submitted various mitigating factors upon his conviction on September 10 2021, the seriousness of the crime outweighed the stated factors.
She said: “Therefore, having considered all the factors under the circumstances of this case, accordingly I sentence you to nine years imprisonment. This sentence shall run from the day you were convicted, that is on September 10. The [two] sentences will run concurrently.”
Mpinganjira’s lawyers, among others, pleaded that he was a first offender, a widower looked after by his children and grandchildren, has a social responsibility and that his health is compromised since he suffered from Covid-19 in March this year.
His legal team further pleaded for a suspended sentence in accordance with sections 339 and 340 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code.
But the State through lead prosecutor Reyneck Matemba, who is also Solicitor General, argued that what Mpinganjira did was a serious offence to defeat the wheels of justice.
DeGabrielle yesterday agreed with the State, stressing that Mpinganjira desperately intended to foil the course of justice and compromise governance institutions; hence, his actions did not warrant a suspended sentence.
The judge also pointed out that while Mpinganjira’s health may be currently compromised, the law mandates the State to provide medical care and access for all inmates.
Meanwhile, one of Mpinganjira’s lawyers, Patrice Nkhono, said in an interview that he will appeal both the conviction and sentence in the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal.
He also hinted that he will apply for bail pending appeal after discussing the same with his client.
Nkhono said: “The decision was made to appeal against both the conviction and the sentence, but I think how the rest of it proceeds from now on is something that we get to sit down with our client and go forward.”
In a telephone interview, Matemba—who was not present during the sentencing—expressed satisfaction with the sentence given to Mpinganjira.
He said: “Investigating and prosecuting this case required personal commitment, sacrifices and courage on the part of everyone involved from ACB investigators, the prosecution team, witnesses to the trial judge.”
Outside the courtroom, Mpinganjira’s sympathisers, including women and men clad in Mulhako wa Alhomwe cultural grouping branded attire ferried in two minibuses, were singing and dancing.
The businessperson and philanthropist, who was arrested on January 22 2020, was answering six charges under the Corrupt Practices Act. He was convicted on two of the six counts.
Mpinganjira was arrested in January 2020 following a complaint Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda lodged with the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) that there were attempts to bribe the five judges of the High Court of Malawi sitting as the Constitutional Court to rule in favour of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) president Peter Mutharika in the 2019 Presidential Election Nullification Petition.
Mpinganjira, a chartered accountant, is a renowned business mogul who turned from an employee to an entrepreneur when he founded FDH Financial Holdings Limited whose subsidiaries include listed FDH Bank plc, First Discount House and FDH Money Bureau Limited.
Besides the business enterprises, Mpinganjira also established the Thomson and Barbara Mpinganjira Foundation, a philanthropy initiative through which he assists several causes. He is also a trustee of both the Cancer Association of Malawi and the Diabetes Association of Malawi and several educational associations and school boards.