The number of people arrested on suspicion that they were involved in the mismanagement of the K6.2 billion set aside to help in responding to the Covid crisis has risen to 46 after seven more were picked Wednesday.
National Police spokesperson, James Kadadzera, said officials from Zomba City Council, Mangochi Municipal Council and Mchinji District Council were among those nabbed Wednesday.
“The suspects will be answering charges of fraudulent accounting, among others,” Kadadzera said.
Meanwhile, Chief Resident Magistrate Patrick Chirwa is today expected to pronounce whether some of the suspects should remain on remand or be granted bail.
At least six suspects from the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) and the Ministry of Information appeared before the court Wednesday afternoon to be formally charged.
OPC Director of Administration Rashid Mtelera and Procurement Officer Dominic Chimaliro and businessman Martin Mainja are being accused of conspiring to defraud the government through a dubious K97.1 million Covid disinfection exercise at Capital Hill and Kamuzu Palace.
The second count is that of abuse of office by Mtelera and Chimaliro, who are accused of failing to follow procurement procedures with OPC ending up spending K97.1 million instead of K1.5 million.
The third count is that of flouting procurement procedures, against the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Act. Mtelera is said to have approved the awarding of the contract without following procurement procedures.
And the fourth charge involves money laundering, where Mainja is accused of being culpable in the mismanagement of K97.1 million.
The state, through prosecutor, Levison Mangani, has asked the court to allow the three suspects to remain in police custody as investigations continue.
Lawyers representing the three, Powell Nkhutabasa, Khwima Mchizi and Khumbo Soko, objected to the state’s plea, arguing it had failed to indicate how the accused might interfere with investigations.
They also said the state should have investigated first rather than effecting the arrests based just on an audit report.
Samuel Nankhuni, Deputy Director of Administration, at the Ministry of Information and two others, have also been charged with abuse of office and flouting procurement procedures in their award of contracts to broadcast Covid materials to television and radio stations.
The report recommended that the suspects pay back the funds.
President Lazarus Chakwera also added that those involved must serve time.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary are reportedly working on the possibility of establishing special courts to expeditiously handle cases related to misappropriation of the K6.2 billion Covid funds.
Registrar of the High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal, Gladys Gondwe, said they are working on all necessary procedures to establish the courts.
“There are a number of things to work on such as increasing numbers of judicial officers and budgetary allocation so that we have all the needed amenities to handle the matters,” Gondwe said.
On his part, Minister of Justice Titus Mvalo said everything is on course to come up with the courts.
“We were expecting a directive from the President on the same and I already met the Chief Justice to start the process and put a timetable on it, so the process is starting next week following the directive from the President,” Mvalo said.
He added that the financial crime courts will have establishments in all regions of the country.
“Our courts are already overloaded with other cases, hence establishing these courts. We will see when we start how to go about it but if there will be need to hire some officers from among private practicing lawyers, we will do so,” Mvalo said.
Police have been arresting people suspected to have abused the funds with Kadadzera saying more arrests are imminent.