Backdoor amnesty?

Steven Kayuni

Four suspects were discharged from a cashgate case after they paid, with interest, the money they are said to have stolen from the public purse. Is this the re-introduction of the highly-contested amnesty which government tried in January this year?

Four out of the 18 cashgate suspects in the K2.4 billion case, which also involved former budget director Paul Mphwiyo, were discharged from the case three weeks ago.

This follows their repayment in full of a total amount of K120 million allegedly stolen from the government coffers in 2013.

Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Steve Kayuni said the money has been repaid with a 10 percent interest accumulated and has been deposited into the government’s Confiscation Fund.


But he did not explain why the clemency was not extended to Mphwiyo and the 13 others in the case.

The four suspects — Ndaona Satema, Cecilia Ng’ambi, Fatch Chungano and Sympathy Chisale — allegedly received K56 million in total through dubious contract transactions.

High Court judge Ruth Chinangwa discharged the four after they repaid the money.


The discharge followed an application by DPP Kayuni for the court to grant them what he calls temporary release. According to him, the State can bring back charges to them anytime.

Asked if the retuning of the money is not a backdoor re-introduction of the highly-contested 60-day amnesty which government announced in January 2022, Kayuni said efforts towards recovery of government money is part of Malawi’s laws.

“Restitution is part and parcel of our criminal justice system. The suspects had money laundering charges. Their return of the 10 percent including interest of charged values that they received calculated from 2013 to date is an effort towards return of stolen proceeds,” Kayuni said.

He further argued that the fight against financial crimes is an incomplete story if it only involves locking up suspects without efforts towards recovery.

When such people get out of jail, he said, they come back to enjoy such proceeds.

“The laws mandate prosecution to take this route on assessment of the case on trial. Further to this, the Constitution requires that such discontinuation is reported to the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament. Amnesty is nowhere near this process,” he said.

In January, government announced a 60-day amnesty to allow those who had defrauded the government or acquired wealth illegally to surrender the stolen funds.

In a statement, Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda said the amnesty extended to people connected to the 77 cashgate files that were before the prosecution authorities, commercial banks that facilitated cashgate and to current investigations.

But government dropped the plan following an uproar, with some arguing that it was a ploy by the Attorney General to give reprieve to some within the administration who were suspected of corruption.

The decision came amid allegations of some public officials being involved in corrupt dealings in relation to contracts awarded to Zuneth Sattar firms.

Among the institutions that questioned the decision was the Malawi Law Society (MLS) which asked Nyirenda to tread carefully on the matter as it is not backed by any law.

“The country is held together by law that is the predictable standard to which we can all resort to at any time. If State actors easily depart from the script of the law, that is a recipe for chaotic lawlessness,” said then MLS president, Patrick Mpaka.

The amnesty decision also shook the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) whose immediate reaction was that it was reviewing the AG statement.

Chancellor College law lecturer, Garton Kamchedzera, told Malawi News this week that criminal and punitive approach to justice has never helped the country to recover proceeds of fraud and corruption.

“The obsession with a criminal and punitive approach to justice has grossly contributed to failure to ensure economic justice in a poor country where public functionaries and others syphon economic resources from the public,” Kamchedzera said.

Executive Director for Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency (Csat) Willy Kambwandira called for integration of expropriation of illicit wealth into all forms of disciplinary and court proceedings.

“We greatly appreciate that efforts to recover the stolen assets and inflict financial punishments have had a degree of success even though the recovered assets fall well short of the sums that have been stolen and misappropriated,” Kambwandira said.

He further said prosecution of high-level corruption cases is novel terrain, hence requires persistence especially with regard to the fact that resources for law enforcement agencies are always in short supply.

“As such, it is imperative to prioritise asset recovery,” he said.

In 2015, another cashgate suspect Treeza Namathanga Senzani surrendered a house valued at K61 million and paid back K2 million in cash, to restitute the K63 million she had received from stolen proceeds.

On 30 August 2022, the High Court in Lilongwe completed hearing of the K2.4 billion cashgate case, nine years after it commenced.

Chinangwa said the court intends to deliver its ruling by March, 2023.

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