A well-known Malawian lawyer represents a desperate widow to claim her money in a deal gone bad. The lawyer, Paul Maulidi, collects the moneyâ€”just over K5 million (about $16 666)â€”on her behalf after an arbitrator settled the matter.
But the lawyer never surrenders the money to the widow.
She complains to the Malawi Law Society (MLS) which, upon concluding that there may be a case of misconduct by the lawyer, recommends to the Attorney General (AG) to move the High Court for an appropriate disciplinary order against Maulidi.
When the matter is brought before Chief Justice (CJ) Lovemore Munlo, he dismisses the misconduct case on technicalities, but leaves room for the AG to recommence the case, which is done.
But more than two years after the ruling and roughly six years after the dispute started, the AG is not moving the court to set a date to resume proceedings against Maulidi, probably have him disciplined and force him to give the widow her dues should it be established that she is entitled to the money.
Slow wheels of justice
The wheels of justice have screeched to a halt and the widow, who has not received even a single tambala from the payout, is helpless.
That is the story of Edith Salawe Mwale, 55. She looks after 12 children, grandchildren and old parentsâ€™ in-law.
When her husband was alive, theirs was one of the most well-to-do families in the central Malawi district of Mchinji.
Her last born son, Kalebe, 23, a student at Malawi College of Accountancy, hopes he would one day become a chartered accountant.
But this dream seems to be dimming because his mother, a nurse by profession, can no longer afford fees.
The genesis of the problems that affected the Mwale widow and her dependents are two pronged.
The family once partnered Petroda Malawi Limited to run a filling station, but the deal went sour, according to court documents The Nation has seen.
Secondly, the Mwales engaged a lawyer, Paul Maulidi, to fight on their behalf to claim their money from Petroda Malawi Limited.
The two parties agreed to engage prominent lawyer Modecai Msisha to arbitrate the dispute, who awarded the Mwale Estate K5 million that Petroda paid, but which Maulidi did not remit to his client.
â€œIf we got that money, we would have been somewhere now. We had plans to re-invest in the filling station and construct a [private] primary school to supplement our income,â€ said Mwale in an interview on Tuesday.
â€œAs far as we know, the money collected was part of profits that Petroda was not giving us during our partnership,â€ she said.
The Mwales started their filling station business in partnership with Petroda in 2003 after paying a K1.3 million fee in March 2001.
Unfortunately, as they run the business, they discovered that Petroda was not giving them their rightful cut from proceeds of the filling station. They decided to end the marriage and started pushing for their share of the cake.
â€œThrough an arbitrator, Modecai Msisha, we were given back the filling station. What remained was for Petroda to pay us profits which were calculated at K5 million,â€ said Mwale in an interview at her home in Mchinji.
Lawyer on the defensive
But lawyer Maulidi on Wednesday this week said: â€œI donâ€™t owe anybody any money.â€
He insisted the K5 million he collected from Petroda was his legal fees. However, documents show that the money was part of profits accrued for the Mwale family in their joint venture with Petroda.
There is also no evidence indicating that Maulidi communicated to the Mwales that he would take the payout from Petroda as his legal fees.
â€œThe calculations showed that the filling station was worth K50 million and I charged 10 percent,â€ he said.
Documents The Nation has seen reveal that Maulidi and Company, Paul Maulidiâ€™s law firm, collected cheque number 780 on August 23 2007 from Petroda Malawi Limited.
The law firm issued receipt number 009, which reads: â€œReceived from Petroda the sum of five million kwacha only being payment for Petroda and Mwale settlement.â€
After it was deposited into the law firmâ€™s bank account, several withdrawals followed.
The fight continues
After a long silence, Mrs. Mwale still fought for justice through another law firm, T.F and Partners, who followed up with Petroda, only to be told â€œwe are surprised with your letter.â€
â€œ…according to our records, the said issue was resolved, settled and a payment was received by Mrs. S. Mwaleâ€™s lawyer namely: Maulidi and Company,â€ wrote Petroda director of administration/company secretary Zubeir Bhana.
At this point, Mwale knew her money was gone; hence, her complaint to the MLS which moved the AG to apply to the courts to struck Maulidi off legal practitionersâ€™ roll for misappropriating clientâ€™s funds.
The then AG, Jane Ansah, also applied that Maulidi should pay back the K5 million.
But Munlo threw out the application on technicalities, arguing that certain things were not properly done and advised Ansah to re-commence proceedings with a proper case.
â€œIn view of the doubtful nature of this inquiry and the many loose ends attendant to it, especially the fact that the defendant was not afforded an opportunity to have legal representation throughout the inquiry as is required by section 13 of the Commission of Inquiry Act, I set aside these proceedings. However, in view of the serious nature of the complaints against the defendant, the Attorney General is at liberty to recommence the proceedings in a properly prepared case should she be so minded,â€ said Munlo in his ruling on May 13 2010.
According to a rectified affidavit by Solicitor General (SG) Anthony Kamanga, which we have seen, on November 24 2008, Edith Salawe Mwale, complained to the chairperson of the Disciplinary Committee of the MLS stating that the defendantâ€™s firm had not remitted K5 million to the Estate of Mr. Mwale or to herself despite collecting the said sums from Petroda Malawi Limited on August 23 2009.
On November 26 2008, the president of MLS requested the defendant, Maulidi, to make written representations to the allegations against his firm, according to Kamanga in the affidavit.
He said the defendant did not respond and on March 4 2009, the society referred the complaint to the Committee.
On April 14 2009, the committee wrote the defendant requesting him to respond to the complaint in writing.
By August 6 2008, the defendant had neither responded to the letter from the Committee nor paid his client the money he collected from Petroda Malawi Limited.
On August 6 2009, the committee found that a prima facie case of misconduct had been made out against Maulidi and the committee proceeded to recommend to the AG to move the court for an appropriate disciplinary measure.
Meanwhile, the Mwale family struggles to make ends meet in the border district of Mchinji.
Interviewing her just a few minutes after she knocked off from her nursing duties at Mchinji District Hospital, Mwale takes you through a trail of problems she perceives are a direct result of â€œthe treatment I never expected to come from a lawyer I trusted.â€
â€œThe arbitrator ruled that Petroda should give us the filling station, unfortunately, they removed several things, including pumps and generator and right now the filling station is not working,â€ said Mwale.
According to her, since Maulidi got the money from Petroda, the lawyer stopped cooperating â€œand we havenâ€™t talked since then.â€
â€œThe [last time we talked was when] he came here with a different story, telling me that Petroda wants to buy the filling station at K5 million. He found me very sick. I told him I was not interested in selling property left for me and my children by my husband,â€ said Mwale.
She was fortunate though that after the death of her husband, relatives did not grab the property left behind.
This includes a house and Mthuzi Private School at Mchinji Boma.
â€œThis is what has been helping us, but now things are not very well and my last born has failed to go back to school because I cannot meet the demanded fees,â€ she said, fighting back tears.
Mwale is failing to complete a primary school project she started and her family can no longer manage three meals they were used to.
She gets K55 000 as a salary, but her monthly expenditure is around K200 000 as she helps relatives and the 12 children, most of whom are struggling to make a living.
â€œItâ€™s only by Godâ€™s grace that we have [survived] to this day,â€ she says.
â€œI know if I got the money, I would have been able by now to build houses for rent and send my children to better schools,â€ she says.
She hopes to be refunded the K5 million plus interest.
But Maulidi is vehement: â€œThis matter is closed, unless someone wants to resuscitate it.â€