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Embassy fraud hits K184m

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A preliminary audit report in to a suspected fraud that happened at the Malawi Embassy in Ethiopia has seen the stolen amount leaping nine times from K20 million to a staggering K184 million, covering a period of 12 months, as officials fear that the figure might reach dizzying heights by the time a probe of three years is over.

More worrying is the fact that some senior officials at Capital Hill are reportedly threatening to deal with families of auditors who have been sent to carry out the probe in Addis Ababa. The fraud has since seen Malawi’s deputy ambassador to Ethiopia, Doreen Kapanga, and Fletcher Chowe, who was first secretary for administration and finance, being suspended and recalled from the mission.

According to the report, addressed to the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, a copy of which we have seen, the figure has moved from US$30,000 to US$267,271.46. The report which has been written by Chief Internal Auditor in the Ministry, Spencer Mulekano, vindicates former foreign affairs minister George Chaponda’s assertions that the fraud has all the characteristics of the infamous Cashgate which saw government losing K24 billion.

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The theft was detected when Chowe allegedly wrote a cheque of US$30,000 in his name and the cheque was signed by Kapanga.

“The Assistant Auditor (Grade K) Mr Gift Mawango has been receiving intimidatory messages from some officers back home. For example, Mr F.Y. Phiri of Central Internal Audit Office has been sending him messages to take care and not to do the work saying the matter is too sensitive and dangerous and can get him into trouble. He has received similar messages from Mr Kajiya, Accounts Assistant in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Remittance Section), enquiring why he is putting too much pressure on Mr Chowe, the first suspect who is the First Secretary Administration and Finance.

“As a result, Mr Mawango has found it tough to work today [April 15 2016] and even suggested that he be relieved from the assignment. The undersigned, in the company of the Ambassador, Mr Chimango Chirwa, managed to calm him down and to assure him that government will take the necessary measures to ensure his safety and that of his family back in Malawi,” reads part of the report.

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The report also bemoans the slow pace with which officials at Capital Hill are moving in facilitating the probe.

“Upon our arrival on Monday, we requested from Mr. Kaipa, the Senior Accounts Assistant at the Ministry (Remittance Section) to provide us with the remittance documents for funds remitted to this embassy for the past three years. So far, he has not submitted the same and this is making our work delay,” states the report.

The Ministry’s Public Relations Officer, Rejoice Shumba, would not shed light on the audit saying that she was yet to see the report as of Sunday.

But the ambassador said the money seems to have been stolen from Malawi and that his embassy was only being used as a conduit for the money to be cashed.

“In fact, the evidence uncovered by the auditors reveal that the money was never recorded in the embassy’s finance system; it does not reflect in our cash book; does not reflect in our monthly expenditure returns which correspond with our funding and the fraudulent cheques are not supported by any documents or payment vouchers,” said Chirwa.

Asked how he felt that the racket happened under his watch, the ambassador said he was glad that he managed to bust the fraud which he suspected to have been going on for years.

“In a situation where the embassy’s senior management deliberately collude to steal funds, bypassing the internal controls, it becomes difficult to detect such fraud as the one being alleged by the audit report. It is heartbreaking that ordinary Malawians are the biggest losers in this unfortunate scandal,” he said.

Grand theft by civil servants has been blamed for loss of not less than 30 percent of government revenue prompting the country’s donors to withhold budgetary support.

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