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‘George Chaponda had no forex licence’

A State witness in a case in which, among others, former minister of Agriculture George Chaponda is being accused of illegally possessing foreign currency has argued that the respondent is not among those permitted to keep such currency.

Griffin Phiri, an Exchange Control, Monitoring and Statistics Manager at the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM), told the Chief Resident Magistrate Court sitting in Lilongwe yesterday that there is no parallel system where an individual can obtain a permit to keep foreign currency apart from through RBM.

When the case moved to RBM headquarters in Lilongwe, before proceedings continued at the court premises, lead State Prosecutor, Macmillan Chakhala, indicated that the defence had submitted a document which purported that Chaponda had been licensed to keep forex by Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe.

The permit has a signature purported to be Gondwe’s.

However, during cross-examination at the court, Phiri argued that the Minister of Finance can only seek guidance from RBM regarding the issuance of a permit for an individual to keep forex.

“For foreign exchange dealerships and individuals, a minister of finance cannot issue a licence. That has never happened before,” he said.

An Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) investigator, Jack Banda, who also tendered his evidence yesterday, claimed that, before a search at Chaponda’s Area 43 residence, another ACB investigator, Kondwani Zulu, had enquired from the former Cabinet minister if he had any guns or money in the house.

Banda said: “I cautioned Dr Chaponda that he had the right not to speak if he felt so. [However], he proceeded to say the money was from the Blue Night [event] which the [Democratic Progressive] Party had held and that Honourable Nicholas Dausi would collect it. This never happened.”

In RBM’s banking hall, where the court sat for over one hour, Zulu produced bunches of United States (US) dollars, most of which, he argued, might have been withdrawn at same instances as their serial numbers were closely sequenced.

Among others, $100 notes totalling $15,900 have serial numbers that start with LL and end with F; $5,600 has serial numbers that start with LF and end with J; $6,900 has serial numbers that start with LK and end with D while $2,900 has serial numbers that start with LB and end with R.

In total, $57,500 is said to have been found in Chaponda’s possession on top of K124.5 million, R22,170 and several other currencies including Namibian Dollars, Chinese Yuan, Kenyan Shillings, Indian Rupees and Ethiopian Birr.

Lead defence counsel, Tamando Chokhotho, argued that, in all the evidence that was being tendered by the witnesses, there was no conclusion that Chaponda had committed the crimes he is being accused of.

In an interview after the case had been adjourned to today, Chokhotho argued that the State’s argument that one can only externalise more than $10,000 of forex from the US after getting approval for the same was lacking in actual substance of what that country’s laws state.

Chaponda reportedly told the ACB that the forex was change from his foreign trips.

Meanwhile, Zomba Chief Resident Magistrate Paul Chiotcha, who is hearing the case, has directed that Gondwe should testify on the authenticity of the permit bearing his signature which the defence produced.

Both Chakhala and Chokhotho said in separate interviews that they are satisfied with the progress of the case.

Apart from possessing foreign currency, Chaponda is also being accused of giving false information to the ACB and attempting to obtain an advantage while his co-accused, a director at Transglobe Produce Export, Rashid Tayub, is being accused of persuading a public officer to perform his functions corruptly.

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