Businessperson Zameer Karim’s lawyers yesterday insisted that former Malawi Police Service director of Finance Innocent Bottoman, who died last month, forged a letter to Ecobank facilitating a K150 million loan.
Bottoman was arrested alongside Karim and fellow police officer Grant Kachingwe in the K7 billion police food rations scandal which is now being prosecuted separately by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).
Karim, trading as Pioneer Investments, is accused of conspiring with Bottoman and Kachingwe between December 14 2014 and September 19 2019 at Ministry of Finance in Lilongwe and stole K7.4 billion from police.
In a separate case before the Lilongwe chief resident magistrate Patrick Chirwa, Karim is charged alongside Ecobank Malawi head of domestic banking Victoria Chanza. The duo is accused of forgery and fraud over alleged use of false documents to obtain a K150 million loan at Ecobank.
In the alleged forgery and fraud at Ecobank where Karim obtained a loan purportedly to service the food supply contract for Police, the main arguments now focus on whether a letter, which confirmed existence of a contract between Karim and Police submitted to the bank, was forged as investigators allege.
During a day-long cross-examination of the lead investigator Yotamu Banda of Fiscal Police, Karim’s defence team led by lawyer Alex Nampota, a former director of ACB, focused on presenting a picture where senior police officers, including the then Deputy Inspector General of Police Duncan Mwapasa, approved the bank arrangement.
The defence further sought to question the credibility of the subsequent police investigation, arguing that the investigators deliberately ignored several key streams of evidence, including e-mails, text messages and letters which they say corroborate Karim’s argument that the letter originated from police service.
Nampota’s cross-examination further focused on an alleged meeting between Bottoman and Mwapasa which agreed on price adjustment for the contract Karim had with police. The details of that meeting were communicated to Karim via Whatsapp text from Mwapasa.
But the witness insisted that the letter was not done by Bottoman, but by Karim, saying Karim had access to several police letters which he used to imitate Bottoman’s signature.
The witness added that Bottoman disowned the document and that further investigations proved that the document was not authored by the Police.
Later, lawyer Tamando Chokotho, representing Chanza, focused cross-examination on lack of evidence about Chanza’s involvement in the originating of the letter and further argued that the banker was a victim of the purported fraud not an accomplice.
But Banda insisted that Bottoman had previously told investigators in the presence of Karim, Chanza and Chokotho of calls between the three acussed persons which could be evidence of the three conniving before the letter was generated.
According to Banda, during a meeting over the issue at Fiscal Police, there was a confrontation between Bottoman, Karim and Chanza when the issue of the phone call was mentioned, but said efforts to obtain call logs from phone operators failed as it required obtaining some call logs from the Indian government.
Particulars of the case indicate that Karim, in August 2015, using his companies—Oil and Protein Company Limited and Pioneer Investments—obtained a K150 million loan from Ecobank using forged documents with a promise to pay back the loan from proceeds of the police food ration deal but never did.