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K5 billion cement saga

MRA slaps importer with K1.3 billion bill

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HAD ALL DOCUMENTATION—Chunara

The Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) is demanding about K1.3 billion from Prestige Import and Export owner, Mahmed Shafee Ahmed Chunara as duty on the K5 billion imported cement that former president Peter Mutharika’s security aide, Norman Chisale and others are accused to have masterminded using the former president’s duty free status.

Chisale, former MRA Deputy Commissioner Roza Mbillizi and former Director of State Residences Peter Mukhito are accused of importing duty free 1,200,000 bags of Cement worth K5 billion from Zambia and Zimbabwe.

MRA’s demand comes after Mutharika came out in the open to say he was not involved in the cement issue.

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Our highly placed sources, who opted for anonymity, told us MRA conducted an audit on the trader who imported the cement using Mutharika’s Taxpayer identification number (Tpin).

“We sent our auditors to Lilongwe about two weeks ago. The importer had all documentation. The audit is complete, the report is ready, we levied K1.3billion as importation duty…this is so because the former president did not import the cement,” the source said.

Another source, who corroborated the story, said MRA has taken the move because Mutharika, after getting advice from his lawyers, said he did not know about the importation.

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“Had the former president owned the cement probably the issue would have been political and MRA would have let go because the law does not specify how much the President can import,” said the source.

MRA spokesperson Steven Kapoloma could neither confirm nor deny our findings and said he could not comment on the matter because of tax payer’s confidentiality.

“We don’t discuss issues of tax payers due to tax payer’s confidentiality. Like in a year, maybe we audit over 200 tax payers and the law says we cannot disclose that we went somewhere to audit.

“It only goes into the public when you want to go and close down a company but that is because we put up a notice in the open so those are the issues that one can comment on. But as a matter of tax payer confidentiality, we do not disclose such information,” he said.

MRA’s move to audit Chunara comes at a time when the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) froze accounts belonging to Mutharika, Mbilizi and Chisale in connection with the saga.

Our efforts to speak to Chunara did not yield much as he did not pick our calls.

However, Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) Director General Reyneck Matemba said it would be premature for the bureau to comment on MRA’s move, arguing the bureau has not completed its investigations on the matter.

“it will be difficult to comment on the action which MRA wants to take in trying to tax the transaction. I do not know on the part of MRA because they know that this man is under investigations, if they have made a decision to tax the transaction, maybe they would know better why they want to do that.

“My advice would be if you could go back to them and find out why they would do that. We are looking at the criminality element of the whole transaction so it will be difficult for me to comment on that and I suppose on their part they are looking at the tax issue,” he said.

Earlier in August, Mukhito was arrested in connection with the matter.

According to sources, Mukhito was summoned partly because he is the one who authored a letter to Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) instructing the revenue-collecting body to clear duty free the bags of cement that were bought at K5 billion, and were said to have been bought for Mutharika’s personal use.

The late Head of Criminal Investigations Department (CID) Bob Mtekama led a team that interrogated Mutharika on his alleged involvement at his retirement home in Mangochi District.

Mutharika is said to have imported 1.2 million bags of cement duty-free in three batches.

The consignment is an equivalent of 2,000 thirty tonner articulated trucks carrying a maximum of 600 cement bags each.

Each consignment was valued at $2.240 million, bringing the total cost of the three consignments to $6.720 million (about K5.040 billion).

The first clearance was made on November 28, 2018 while the second clearance was given on July 1, 2019. The third clearance was issued on December 16, 2019 and was all signed by Malawi Revenue Authority Deputy Commissioner, Technical – Customs and Excise, Abigail Kawamba.

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