The High Court in Zomba on Monday ordered Standard Bank Malawi to supply all images of bank cheques issued by two of businessperson-cum-politician Osward Lutepo’s companies to trace ultimate beneficiaries of Cashgate money.
High Court judge Redson Kapindu made the ruling following a plea by Lutepo’s lawyer, Oswald Mtupila, that his client was only used as a conduit of funds from the plunder of public resources at Capital Hill called Cashgate.
Mtupila said Lutepo was willing to disclose all matters related to Cashgate, but could not comply because Standard Bank did not provide him with all the necessary bank cheques images he had asked.
In his ruling, read using a light from a cellphone, the judge ordered Standard Bank to supply the images by tomorrow and that the State should submit the images to the court by Thursday.
“I order that Standard Bank immediately provide the bank cheque images by Wednesday and government should provide the images by Thursday and the court will meet Friday for sentencing,” said justice Kapindu.
The court converged to hear Lutepo’s mitigation plea before sentencing on Friday.
Mtupila told the court Lutepo wanted to disclose his involvement in Cashgate, including names of all the people that received money from him. He said through informal communication with the bank, he was told the policy was that the bank does not give information relating to accounts to which one is not party to.
He said: “Standard Bank supplied cheque images for the companies only, but did not supply images for bank cheques… There are several transactions that are captioned bank cheques. It is only the bank that can tell the beneficiaries of those specific bank cheques.”
Lutepo pleaded for leniency to two counts of conspiracy to defraud government and money laundering which the court convicted him after he had pleaded guilty on June 15 2015.
In his mitigation, Lutepo pleaded with the court to give him 12 months suspended sentence because he voluntarily pleaded guilty, saving the State time and resources. Besides, he said he was cooperative.
Mtupila made reference to two documents—the convict’s witness statement and a declaration statement—lodged with the court.
Lutepo has also restituted his company, Woget Industries, worth K370 million to the State as one way of showing remorse for taking part in money laundering.
In the witness report and declaration documents, according to Mtupila’s presentation in court, Lutepo has disclosed all the names of people that were involved in Cashgate and how and who were the ultimate beneficiaries of the stolen money.
Said the lawyer: “The defendant cannot restitute the whole K4.2 billion of which he is charged. He was only used and the money went to those people and entities mentioned in the declaration.”
In response to the plea for leniency, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mary Kachale, while agreeing with most of Lutepo’s plea bargain submissions, said the court should not lose sight to the fact that Lutepo’s action led to suffering of Malawians.
She acknowledged that Lutepo’s voluntary guilty plea was an indication of remorse, but observed that the guilty plea came at a cost when government paid for Lutepo’s mental illness assessment which was not needed if he had pleaded guilty without the State going through the trouble of assessing his condition.
Kachale also commended Lutepo for his disclosure in the declaration statement which she said it was good for the country’s governance as it has shown that the money that was stolen from government was used to fund the then governing People’s Party (PP) election campaign.
Said the DPP: “His [Lutepo’s] declaration statement raises the issues of political party financing, this is a good governance issue. From the evidence provided we have also known that People’s Party gave K11 million to one of the Malawi Congress Party [MCP] presidential candidates to disturb MCP election and convention and influence the outcome.”
She, however, refused to name the MCP presidential candidate that received K11 million to influence the outcome, saying that would disturb the investigations.
Kachale asked the court to sentence Lutepo to 10 years broken down to nine years for money laundering and one year for conspiracy to defraud government.
In a separate interview, Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) deputy director general Reyneck Matemba said the State has made several concessions, including removing several counts that Lutepo could have been charged because of his cooperation.
The shooting of former Ministry of Finance budget directror Paul Mphwiyo outside the gate of his Area 43 residence in Lilongwe on September 13 2013 exposed the plunder of public resources at Capital Hill.
British forensic audit firm, Baker Tilly, established that between April and September 2013, about K24 billion in public funds was abused through payments for goods and services not rendered; inflated payments and payments without supporting documentation.
In May this year, a financial analysis report by audit and business advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) established that about K577 billion in public funds could not be reconciliated between 2009 and December 31 2014.