At around 2:30pm Friday, Vice President Saulos Chilima stepped up into the doc at the Chief Resident Magistrate Court in Area 3 in Lilongwe.
Looking calm, he listened to counts read out to him by Chief Resident Magistrate Madalitso Chimwaza.
This was a culmination of what turned out to be a dramatic day when the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) arrested and interrogated Chilima on corruption allegations in dealings with UK-based businessman, Zuneth Sattar.
As early as 8am, Mulanje House where the ACB offices are located in Lilongwe was no-go area for people as heavy security cordoned it off ahead of Chilima’s appearance.
Soldiers and police officers blocked all roads leading to the ACB offices from about a distance of 100 metres.
All people working in offices near the ACB offices were told to go back home.
After close to four hours of questioning, Chilima emerged from the ACB offices and headed for court.
In a statement, ACB announced it had arrested Chilima on allegation that between March 2021 and October 2021, he received money amounting to $280,000 and other items from Sattar as a reward for him to assist Sattar’s companies, Xavier Limited and Malachite FZE, to be awarded contracts by the Malawi Government.
In court, Chilima was charged with:
- Three counts of corrupt practices
- Two counts of receiving advantage for using influence in regard to government contracts
- One count of failing to make a full report to a police officer or an officer of the ACB that an advantage had been corruptly given
All the while at the court, there was a scant presence of followers, let alone senior officials of UTM, a party for which Chilima is president. Just after 3pm, UTM secretary general and Minister of Gender Patricia Kaliyati arrived at the court, returning from Dedza District where she was presiding over the launch of this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence campaign.
Chimwaza granted Chilima bail whose conditions included that he surrenders his travel documents and pay K1 million cash bail bond.
ACB’s Chief Legal and Prosecution Officer Chrispine Khunga did not object to the bail application made by Chilima’s lawyers George Mtchuka Mwale and Bright Theu.
He told the court that at some point the matter will be transferred to the financial court for further hearing.
The ACB has since announced it has hired veteran lawyer Mordecai Msisha to lead the prosecution team in the case.
ACB Director General Martha Chizuma told the court that they are waiting for the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to give them a go ahead on the matter.
In June this year, ACB officers failed to arrest and question Chilima at his Area 43 residence after scores of UTM supporters blocked them from entering the residence.
Malawi Law Society president Patrick Mpaka said under the Constitution the Vice President is not immune from criminal prosecution.
“Given that sustained high level corruption has been among the major and primary setbacks undermining the realisation of the will and aspirations of the people of Malawi to progressive development as recorded in several places in the Constitution, the Anti- Corruption Bureau is therefore duty bound and should take up and conclude any criminal investigations and prosecution against the Vice President if the Bureau has evidence of such malpractice attributed to the Vice President,” Mpaka said.
He said without prejudice to the legal presumption of his innocence, the Vice President remains liable to criminal prosecution if the Anti-Corruption Bureau or any law enforcement agency has reason to believe in his potential guilt.
In June this year, President Lazarus Chakwera suspended the powers of Vice President Chilima after the ACB, in a report, accused Chilima of accepting kickbacks in return for government contracts.
The bureau’s findings came a month after Britain’s National Crime Agency showed that Chilima was on the list of government officials receiving kickbacks from Sattar.
Sattar was arrested in Britain in September last year for allegedly providing bribes to Malawi government officials to win contracts from Malawi Police Service and Malawi Defence Force, among other departments.
In his statement after receiving the ACB report on the matter, Chakwera also fired Inspector General of Police George Kainja and suspended his Chief of Staff, Prince Kapondamgaga.
He said the four are among 13 government officials the ACB found to have received money from Sattar between 2017 and 2021.
However, Chakwera could not fire Chilima because he has no constitutional powers to do so.
“The best I can do for now, which is what I have decided to do, is to withhold from his office any delegated duties while waiting for the bureau to substantiate its allegations against him,” he said.
The ACB investigation said 53 public officers and 31 individuals from the private sector, civic groups and the legal community also received money from Sattar between March and October 2021.
In what was seen a response to Chakwera’s action against him, Chilima cautioned ACB at a press briefing early in July against being used for political reasons.
At the briefing, he called for the amendment of Section 91(2) of the Constitution of Malawi which gives immunity to the occupant of office of President from prosecution.
He said it was ironical that while the country’s laws allow for investigations and prosecution of the Vice-President for alleged criminal wrongdoing, this is not the case with the President.
“One of the concrete goals of the Tonse Alliance, which is yet to be attended to, was to remove presidential immunity from criminal prosecution. This promise was pronounced under the campaign agenda of the alliance,” he said.