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Malawi: ‘Cashgate’ chief suspect fails to appear in court

Businessman Oswald Lutepo, the chief suspect in ‘cashgate’, the systematic plunder of government money, did not appear in court in the capital city of Lilongwe as scheduled Monday to be charged with perjury for confessing that he gave false testimony under oath in court

Police spokesperson Mable Nsefula said the law enforcers needed more time to investigate his allegations.

“We want to tie up a few loose ends,” she said. “Besides, we’re still within the 48 hour-rule by which a suspect has to be brought to court, charged and released on bail if police does not apply for lawful extension of detention.”

Meanwhile, Lutepo’s lawyer Oswald Mkupira said his client fell ill in police cell Sunday night. He said he was under medication when he was arrested in the central district of Kasungu, some 100 kilometres from Lilongwe.

“In fact he was planning to meet his doctor in (the commercial capital) Blantyre when he was taken ill,” he said.

Mkupira could, however, not disclose the nature of Lutepo’s ailment.

Lutepo, allegedly the biggest beneficiary in ‘cashgate’ – the worst financial scandal to hit Malawi in its 50 years as an independent country – was re-arrested following his allegations that senior government officials were behind the scandal where businessmen connived with civil servants and politicians to swindle government through payments for goods and services not rendered to government.

In a scathing exposé published in two leading weekend papers, Malawi News and Weekend Nation, Lutepo – a former governing People’s Party executive member and one of its chief financiers, alleges that he was threatened into implicating some senior government officials in the former Joyce Banda administration while shielding others.

He said he was warned that should he refuse to play along he would be implicated in the shooting of former Budget Director Paul Mphwiyo.

“I was told in no uncertain terms that the government was after the former Minister of Justice, Ralph Kasambara. I was told that I should cooperate to ensure that Ralph Kasambara was implicated in the cashgate cases,” he wrote in the letter addressed to Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale and copied to Chief Justice Anastasia Msosa and Western embassies.

The shooting of Mphwiyo on 13 Sept last year unravelled the scandal. Soon after the shooting former, Banda said the youthful technocratic was targeted because he was championing her anti-corruption crusade.

Following the shooting huge stashes of cash – in Malawi kwacha, US dollars and South African rands – started showing up in unimaginable places like in car trunks, under pillows or in baby dolls.

An audit by the British audit firm Baker Tilly revealed that in all 13 billion Malawi kwacha (about US$30 million) was looted in the scandal.

At least 70 suspects, including Lutepo, were arrested and are currently in court answering fraud and corruption charges surrounding cashgate.

Meanwhile, Western donor nations and agencies have suspended some US$150 million in budgetary support in reaction to the scandal.


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