UK agents in Malawi as ‘Cashgate-scale’ scandal unravels
BY PIJ REPORTER
The investigation by British and Malawi officials into businessman Zuneth Sattar appears greater in magnitude than previously reported with officials briefed on the details describing its scale as bigger than the Cashgate scandal of 2013.
The PIJ was the first to publish details of the investigation and has been investigating the matter as UK and Malawi authorities continue to scrutinize the matter, combing through troves of documents, gadgets, and other pieces of evidence obtained during raids conducted in October on residences and offices belonging to Sattar and his associates in Leicester, United Kingdom, and Lilongwe, Malawi.
The development comes as PIJ understands agents from the National Crime Agency (NCA) have landed in the country as part of the investigation, now lasting two years.
According to those briefed on the investigations, among the items collected during the raids was a list of politicians both in current and previous governments, current and past members of parliament, senior and junior civil servants, lawyers, civil society activists, media personalities, who have aided and abated the alleged crimes.
According to a source close to the investigation, during the raid at Sattar’s office in Lilongwe’s Area 4, officials collected 4 pamphlets with details of the individuals Sattar was paying to facilitate the alleged crimes or for other favours.
However, the main piece of the evidence was collected by the British law enforcement agency and that include details of how senior officials in both the Peter Mutharika and Lazarus Chakwera administrations are at the centre of an alleged web of bribes and kickbacks for multiple contracts for the supply of various items to the military and police.
PIJ understands the military top brass including General Vincent Nundwe have thrown their weight behind the investigation as an opportunity to rid the military of the yoke of overpriced contracts including for items that the military did not want but was imposed on it by the politicians.
However, despite the military welcoming the probe, strong resistance has emerged from within the current administration with implicated officials close to president Chakwera alarmed by the investigation pressuring the ACB to thwart the investigation.
According to another source close to the investigations, those officials have used Chakwera as a shield from the investigation and have been urging the ACB boss that the investigation could bring down the president, claiming that the funds sourced from Sattar were channeled to the president.
The National Intelligence Services (NIS) is reported to also have exerted pressure on the ACB director, claiming that cooperation with the UK agency on the matter, by among others releasing dossiers of local ACB investigations on the matter, threatens national security.
“The Director of NIS has been asking the Director-General of ACB not to proceed with the cooperation on basis that giving the NCA the dossiers compromises national security. On the other hand, there are these senior government officials, including some very close to the president who is saying, ‘the money was for the president so stop the case,” said the source.
The ACB boss has held meetings with officials at Ministry of Justice over the issue and PIJ understands President Chakwera was briefed on the investigation and gave green light to the bureau to proceed despite the panic by the NIS and his aides.
“The President was given a briefing from outset and even ordered that security for Chizuma be enhanced,” said a source close to the investigation.
Precisely details of how the alleged corruption could threaten national security appear unclear, according to the sources briefed on the matter.
Chizuma is pushing on with the investigations and NCA officials were reportedly in the country to continue working on the case with major developments expected within hours or days, according to two sources.
During a meeting with civil society group, CDED, ACB director Martha Chizuma confirmed—without citing the Sattar case—she was receiving pressure from politicians from both the government and opposition on how to handle certain cases.
Chizuma also said President Chakwera himself has been supportive: “the tone from the appointing authority is encouraging. My fidelity is to God, people of Malawi and indeed the appointing authority,” she stated. “If there will be a change of tune from the appointing authority which affects my independence, I will surely reconsider my position.”
Chizuma, the former Ombudsman who became the top corruption prosecutor amid high expectations, is reported to remain resolute to prosecute the case.
The Bureau issued restriction orders on 21st October against nine contracts at Malawi Defense Force (MDF) and Malawi Police Service (MPS). The contracts were for Xaviar (4), Malachite, Malachite FZE, Crimson Trading Ltd, Xelite strips (one each). All contracts were between 2019 and 2021.
The announcement by the ACB, however, fell short of confirming the companies belonged to Sattar or were under probe in connection to the NCA-ACB investigation.
But we now know they are.
Sattar, plus associate Ashok Nair, through their lawyers, attempted, in vain, to obtain a gag order to stop The Nation and Daily Times from publishing details about the investigation by the ACB and NCA and confirmed inadvertently confirmed the list of companies associated to be the ones under investigation.
“The warrant was meant to access evidence that had to do with Xelite Stripes Ltd, Xavier, and Malachite FZE companies, the allegation being that the claimants obtained contracts from the Malawi Police Service and Malawi Defense Force using these companies by bribing politically exposed persons.
The Platform for Investigative Journalism (PIJ) is an independent Malawian media outlet focusing on exposing corruption, rights abuses, and other social ills. If you have any information on this story and any other issues you would like us to report on, contact us via: firstname.lastname@example.org