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K14 billion Mulli payment under Attorney General, ACB radar

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PENNED —Silungwe

There are continued twists and turns to claims of an alleged K14 billion payout by the previous government to Mulli Brothers Limited (MBL), through its subsidiaries Sunrise Pharmaceuticals and Chombe Foods Limited, as the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) wants the new administration and the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to probe the matter.

HRDC has written the ACB and the office of the Attorney General to investigate former Attorney Generals, Kalekeni Kaphale and Charles Mhango for abuse of office on the alleged payment of MK 14 billion to the two companies as compensation for damage to property and loss of business during the July 20 2011 demonstrations.

In a letter signed by HRDC Chairperson Gift Trapence dated August 11 2020 addressed to the ACB Director General Reyneck Matemba and Attorney General Chikosa Silungwe, the human rights body said it has information in its

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possession that Kaphale agreed with lawyer for the claimant, Tamando Chokhotho, on ‘ridiculous’ interests to pay the two companies K14 billion against a High Court determination that ordered government to pay the claimant K3,048,557,708.71 as compensation for the damages and loss of business.

In the letter, HRDC expressed surprise with Kaphale’s decision to effect payment based on High Court order when the matter was in the Supreme Court and that the order on file was in favour of government. The human rights body accuses the former AG of abusing his powers and making decisions against public interest.

“Our investigations show that the office of the Attorney General applied and successfully set aside this judgment on the ground that the matter was too contentious to be disposed of summarily like that. The Attorney General also obtained a stay order stopping implementation of the judgment. The two companies, through their lawyer Tamando Chokhotho, appealed to the Supreme Court against the ruling. This was during the Joyce Banda administration. Despite the appealing, the two companies never sought a date for hearing,” reads the letter in part.

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The letter further alleges that former Solicitor General Janet Banda refused to effect the payment in 2014 when she was approached by the owners of the two companies.

In the letter, HRDC alleges that Mhango, the then Attorney General, agreed to effect payment of K3, 048, 557, 708.71 based on a High Court order of October 3 2014 in a release agreement that was signed on April 13 2018, but the figures ballooned to about K14 billion.

HRDC alleges that it has information that the former Attorney General effected payment to the claimants in February 2020.

When approached by Malawi News, Mhango declined to comment.

“Considering that the matter has been referred to ACB, otherwise my comments could potentially interfere with the contemplated investigations,“ Mhango said.

On his part, the recent past Attorney General Kaphale said HRDC is just working on rumours.

“They are working on rumours, ask Treasury or the solicitor General, or the Public Finance Committee of the National Assembly, chaired by Hon. Ken Kandondo then, to find out if any payment was made to MBL in February 2010, they will tell you the truth,” Kaphale said

Attorney General Chikosa silungwe acknowledged receipt of the letter.

“We have formally received the letter, we shall formally respond once asked to do so,” Silungwe said.

ACB Director General Reyneck Matemba also acknowledged receipt of the letter from the rights body.

When contacted to comment on the Matter, Leston Mulli who is the owner of Sunrise Pharmaceuticals and Chombe Foods Limited said ACB is free to investigate the matter.

“Let them investigate the matter, what they should know is that I lost business and I had to wait for seven years for me to get compensation for damaged property and loss of business during the 20 July 2011 demonstrations, and tell them that if they conclude investigating me they should also investigate some people that are demanding to be payed K 7 billion for just working on a case for 60 days,” Mulli said.

Commenting on the matter Executive Director of Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency Willy Kambwandira said it is disheartening that the former AG failed to exercise urgency on matters where substantial amount of tax payers’ money were paid from government coffers.

“The decisions by the two former Attorney Generals to instruct Treasury to pay huge sums of money to the two companies’ without proper defense raises eyebrows on the role of the AG office when it comes to defending interests of Malawians. The former Attorney General was supposed to exercise seriousness and diligence in the matter. Unfortunately, such huge sums of payments were made when Malawians were told that government had no money. This was purely abuse of office. The billions in question could have been used to improve lives of Malawians” said Kambwandira.

Kambwandira has since called oversight public institutions to rise to the task and provide the required oversight in management of public funds.

“It is sad that this plunder occurred in the eyes of public oversight institutions such as the Parliamentary Accounts Committee, ACB and Police. These reports are shocking, and one wonders where oversight institutions were? We only speculate that they were either captured or paralysed,” Kambwandira said.

The HRDC’s appeal comes hot on the heels of emerging reports of plunder of public money in several institutions by agents of the previous administration.

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