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How mighty Thom fell

High Court Judge Dorothy DeGabrielle convicts business magnate Thom Mpinganjira in attempted bribery case

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HOW IT STARTED—Mpinganjira attempted to bribe these judges

In what could be an anti-climax of a journey of a man so widely admired and looked up to, business mogul, Thomson Mpinganjira, Friday walked into the high walls of Chichiri prison, convicted on charges of attempted bribery.

There, the brains behind the flourishing FDH Financial Holdings Limited, will await for the day it shall please High Court Judge Dorothy DeGabrielle to hand out a sentence to him after she found him guilty for attempting to bribe five judges in the 2019 Presidential Elections case.

Inside the courtroom

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At around 12pm, while others were preparing for or having lunch in the comfort of their homes, offices or restaurants, Mpinganjira was seeing some of his freedom dissipating.

By 10am, Mpinganjira was strutting inside the court room, consulting his lawyers before taking a seat at the back of the court.

He was wearing a blue suit, tinted sunglasses, black mask, pink shirt and black shoes.

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But things took a different turn at around 10:47 when DeGabrielle told Mpinganjira that he did not need the tinted sunglasses; therefore he should remove them.

The judgement

Mpinganjira was being accused of offering money amounting to K100 million to the five judges with the intention to influence their judgment in the elections case so that it goes in favour of former president Peter Mutharika and the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec).

Mutharika and Mec were respondents in the case filed by Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima who were protesting the declaration of victory for Mutharika in the May 2019 elections.

In her determination, DeGabrielle based her evidence considerably on phone call recordings and printed WhatsApp conversations furnished to the court by Judge Michael Tembo, one of the five judges in the elections case.

DeGabrielle said that it had been proved beyond reasonable doubt that Mpinganjira had “a parcel” which he wanted to give to the judges.

She said this was proof that he corruptly offered an advantage to the judges and was not offering donations like he has been doing before. Rather he was trying to influence them.

She added that it was clear that he had links with Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which is led by Mutharika, because he was invited by high-profile people in the party to stand as running mate and that he has a relative who is a top official in the party, Brown Mpinganjira.

“It is clear that the accused wanted the case to go in favour of the Democratic Progressive Party and Malawi Electoral Commission because the party owed him K946 million,” she said.

Todate, DPP has not yet paid back the money, the judge observed.

In the end, DeGabrielle convicted Mpinganjira on six counts under Corrupt Practices Act They include offering an advantage to a public officer, attempting to induce public officers to exercise functions of their offices corruptly and attempting to influence public officers among others.

She also revoked Mpinganjira’s bail and dispatched him to Chichiri Prison where he would be on remand until his sentencing.

Mitigation

Defence lawyers gave Mpinganjira a ray of hope when they entered mitigation. They prayed for a non-custodial sentence.

In justification, one of his lawyers, Tamando Chokhotho, said Mpinganjira was a first offender.

He added that Mpinganjira is 60 years old, is a family man with children and grandchildren who look up to him.

He said their client has built and supported a lot of churches, pays school fees for many disadvantaged students.

He said he the founder of Thomson and Barbara Mpinganjira Foundation which supports projects such as a cervical cancer charity.

He added that in raising funds for his foundation, he does require to travel.

He added that he is an investor and an entrepreneur and employs hundreds of people.

He has also come out to serve and sponsor Mighty Wanderers Football Club.

Chokotho further said Mpinganjira is in frequent need of medical attention as he suffered Covid-19 recently.

The defence lawyers further argued that if he were to be handed a custodial sentence, employees of his businesses, his family and the people he assists would suffer.

They said their client has shown remorse over the unfortunate events that have led to his conviction and shall not tolerate any corruption.

They therefore pleaded that the accused be given a non-custodial sentence.

State trashes mitigation factors

But in response, lead prosecutor Reyneck Matemba said the offences which the convict committed erodes his uprightness as claimed by the defence lawyers.

He added that Mpinganjira should have known that people, including his family, will be affected before committing the crime.

According to Matemba, had Mpinganjira succeeded in his “nocturnal machinations”, Malawi would have been in a chaotic situation.

He trashed the argument that putting Mpinganjira in jail would lead to the suffering of his business. He said Mpinganjira is no longer running businesses such as FDH Bank; therefore the business cannot be affected by his absence.

He said the bank is now run by his son, William Mpinganjira, as Chief Executive Officer and other people, including the public, as it is listed on Malawi Stock Exchange.

He said sponsoring Mighty Wanderers is not an issue that should be considered as Mpinganjira took up this responsibility only two months ago.

He said the convict has wasted the court’s and State’s time, which showed that he is not remorseful and that a suspended sentence is not applicable in this case.

About his health, Matemba added that the State did not know about his health condition; therefore it would only be considered after the defence proves it.

He said the offences he committed have a fixed sentence which is 12 years in prison and the court should give that sentence to send a message to others.

“We want the court to give the convict a custodial sentence not a suspended sentence to show to others that want to use their wealth, power and influence to abuse the law,” said Matemba.

How the issue came to light

Early in January 2020, reports filtered through that the Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda had reported to the ACB a case of bribery towards the five judges in the elections case namely Ivy Kamanga, Redson Kapindu, Michael Tembo, Healey Potani and Dingiswayo Madise.

At a press briefing, Matemba who was then ACB Director, said:

“I can confirm that the Anti-Corruption Bureau received a written complaint from the Chief Justice on a matter related to the presidential elections case that is pending judgement in the Constitutional Court.”

The ACB received the complaint on 8 December 2019. On 23 January 2020, it arrested Mpinganjira in relation to the matter.

Mpinganjira’s business acumen

Mpinganjira commenced the setting up the First Discount House in December 1999, which opened doors in April 2002.

He was its first Managing Director until 2007 when he started the process of setting up FDH Bank, whose banking licence was obtained on 27 November 2007, and he became its first Managing Director.

In 2007, he established FDH Financial Holdings Limited as part of the restructuring to replace the First Discount House as the holding company.

FDH Financial Holdings Limited currently has FDH Bank Plc, FDH Money Bureau Limited, First Discount House Limited, FDH Advisory Services and MSB Properties Limited as its subsidiaries.

FDH Bank Plc is the first-ever indigenous Malawian, privately- founded business to be publicly listed.

In September 2020, Mpinganjira retired as Group Chief Executive Officer for FDH Financial Holdings Ltd.

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