BLANTYRE (MaraviPost) — A magistrates’ court in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, Tuesday released on bail businessman Oswald Lutepo, the main suspect of the systematic looting of government money dubbed ‘cashgate’.
Lutepo, who was re-arrested on Sunday after he confessed in a highly-circulated ‘open letter’ to the Attorney General where he admitted that he lied under oath in earlier court testimonies. He said he was forced to implicate some top government officials while exonerating others.
Lutepo was released after the state, through Senior State Advocate Oliver Gondwe, formally charged Lutepo of perjury, which technically means he lied under oath.
“Your honour, the state was aware of the 24-hour rule which has since has expired on Tuesday. The reason we failed to take him to court is because he was admitted at City Centre Clinic, where he was still admitted. We are here today to comply with Section 42 (2) of the Constitution which requires the state to present accused persons before court to be charged within 48 hours,” he said.
Lutepo’s lawyer Oswald Mtupila applied to the court for his client to be released on bail, to with the state did not object. He told the court that his client was given a “temporary discharge” of 20 minutes by his doctors.
The businessman was taken ill after he collapsed in his holding cell. He was diagnosed with high blood pressure and stomach pains.
Senior Resident Magistrate Chisomo Msokela proceeded to release him on bail since, according to him, he was already on bail on more serious charges of fraud and money laundering. Perjury is considered as a misdemeanour in Malawi.
Lutepo arrived at the court heavily-guarded by uniformed police officers.
Lutepo’s new charge of perjury relates to a July 17 letter addressed to Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale in which he claims that he was forced by Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Bruno Kalemba, state prosecutor Kamudoni Nyasulu and former Justice Minister Fahad Assani to record false witness statements implicating other senior public officers while exonerating others.
Lutepo, a former governing People’s Party executive member and one of its chief financiers, claimed the statements were recorded under duress.
During ‘cashgate’ at least US $300m was looted from government coffers when businessmen connived with politicians and civil servants for payments for goods and services not rendered to government.
At least 70 suspects, including Lutepo, were arrested and are currently in court answering fraud and corruption charges.
The scandal, Malawi’s worst financial scandal in its 50 years of nationhood, could have cost former president Joyce Banda, on whose watch it broke, the May 20 election. Banda, Africa’s second woman president, came third in the election which saw Peter Mutharika, her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika’s younger brother, emerging the winner.