The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has frozen some bank accounts of former president Peter Mutharika, his wife Getrude Mutharika, former Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) Deputy Director General Roza Mbilizi, and Mutharika’s top security aide Norman Chisale in connection to the on-going investigations on the importation of duty free 400,000 bags of cement worth K5 billion from Zambia and Zimbabwe.
A source within the bureau, who asked for anonymity told Malawi News that the bureau froze the accounts after it had noticed strange withdraws in the course of the investigations it is carrying out.
“We have frozen two Mutharika accounts; one that is solely owned by the former president and another, a joint account with his wife. One account for Chisale and three accounts for Roza Mbilizi at NBS Bank, National Bank and Standard Bank.
“The accounts have been frozen so that the bureau is able to finalise its investigations on the matter,” our source said.
The source could, however, not disclose the actual amount in the frozen accounts but was quick to say the money is a lot.
“I do not have the figure off my head but it is a lot of money, I can confirm this to you,” the source said.
When contacted, ACB Director General Reyneck Matemba declined to comment, arguing those are operational matters of the bureau.
“I cannot say anything about that issue your inquiring because those are operational matters of the bureau,” he said.
Mutharika’s personal secretary Linda Salanjira also declined to comment on the matter.
“I am sorry my dear I cannot comment on that,” she said.
Chancy Gondwe, lawyer representing Chisale in the cement matter, said he does not have details of the issue in question.
“I do not have details on that,” he said.
And efforts to speak to Mbilizi proved futile as she could not pick our calls.
Mutharika is entangled in the cement saga where his personal bodyguard Chisale, former Chief of Staff for State Residences, Peter Mukhito and Lilongwe based businessman Ahmed Chunara were arrested on allegations that they imported about 1.2 million bags of cement using Mutharika’s Taxpayer Identification Number (TPIN).
About two weeks ago, police briefly arrested Mukhito in connection with the matter.
According to sources, Mukhito was arrested partly because he is the one who authored a letter to MRA, instructing the revenue-collecting body to clear duty free the bags of cement that were bought at K5 billion, and were said to have been bought for Mutharika’s personal use.
Bob Mtekama, who until his death recently was Head of Criminal Investigations Department (CID) for Malawi Police Service, led a team that interrogated Mutharika at his retirement home in Mangochi two weeks ago on his involvement in the issue.
However, Mutharika denied any involvement and issued a press release, saying he had learnt with shock that MRA approved the clearance of duty free cement, using his TPIN.
In the initial transaction in November 2018, the former president bought 20 000 metric tonnes (MT) or 200 000 bags of cement worth $2 240 000 (about K1.68 billion) from PTC Zimbabwe Limited duty-free. In the second transaction in July 2019, Mutharika purchased the same quantity from Prestige Export based at Chipata in Zambia.
Ironically, the former president was importing the cement after launching the Buy Malawian Strategy (BMS)—a Malawi Government-spearheaded campaign supported by donors such as the UNDP— in April 2016 aimed at boosting local initiatives.
Malawi has three large-scale cement manufacturing companies, namely; Lafarge Cement in Blantyre, Shayona Cement Corporation in Kasungu and Cement Products Limited in Mangochi.
According to the 2020 Malawi Annual Economic Report, Malawian companies have invested a lot in the manufacturing of cement and increased production capacity of cement from 210 500MT in 2019 to 243 075MT.