Bingu’s residence named Casablanca Manor at his Ndata Farm in Thyolo
BLANTYRE-(MaraviPost)-The country’s Anti-corruption Bureau ACB has lost some information that was part of the probe into the late president Bingu wa Mutharika’s controversial MK61 billion wealth amassed during his eight years in office.
Prior to becoming Head of State in 2004 his declared wealth was a mere MK150 million, Nation on Sunday learnt.
Roughly five years ago, the ACB received the now missing information from Jersey—an Island in Europe—through Malawi’s Ministry of Justice.
Bingu allegedly opened a bank account on the island where he stashed some cash.
The then ACB director general Rezine Mzikamanda wrote the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP)—the Ministry of Justice’s prosecution arm—acknowledging receipt of the Jersey information on July 4 2014.
The paper could not establish the specifics of the said information, but ACB director general Reyneck Matemba said on Friday that the bureau could not trace any information from Jersey relating to the matter.
The revelation follows a press statement jointly issued by DPP Mary Kachale and Matemba on Tuesday stating that Jersey fully cooperated with the request Malawi made to provide bank records for the K61 billion estate whose value the family has been contesting, arguing it is much lower.
In the Tuesday statement, the two agencies said the Attorney General (AG) in Jersey fully cooperated with the request Malawi made.
But last week’s statement is contrary to what Matemba and the bureau’s spokesperson Egrita Ndala said last August.
At that time, the duo said ACB was still waiting to hear from Jersey and were helpless without that information.
Asked to explain the contradictions between his August statement and the one made last week jointly with the DPP, Matemba on Friday said at the time of the interview, the bureau had no information and that he personally had not seen any from the time he joined ACB in December 2013.
“The only information that we have at the ACB relating to this matter is a letter written by former director general [Justice Rezine Mzikamanda], addressed to the former Director of Public Prosecutions [Bruno Kalemba], where the former DG of the ACB is acknowledging receipt of some information from the former Director of Public Prosecutions.
“In view of this, therefore, I wish to inform you that the ACB will endeavour to engage office holders at the time and decide on the way forward,” Matemba said.
An insider at the Ministry of Justice explained that the DPP’s office asked ACB about the Jersey information, apparently after it got a query from Jersey on claims that it had not cooperated on the matter.
The source said officers at the bureau have tried to look for the information, but are finding difficulties to trace it and it appears no one is aware about the content of the information that was received.
The source, who is conversant with the matter, disclosed that authorities in Jersey were disturbed when they learnt that Malawi authorities had suggested that authorities on the island did not cooperate on Malawi’s request to provide information relating to Bingu’s bank accounts on the island.
However, the source said Malawi still has a chance to ask Jersey authorities to send the documentary evidence again, although that would portray a picture that Malawi lacks seriousness on the matter.
The bureau also told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament earlier, when it appeared before it, that there was no progress on the matter.
Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs spokesperson Pilirani Masanjala, whose office also speaks for the DPP and the AG, asked Nation on Sunday to direct its questionnaire on the matter to ACB.
We wanted the DPP to explain what steps the office was taking on the matter considering that it was a signatory to the press statement that confirmed that Jersey provided the requested information.
The Tuesday joint statement did also not inform Malawians about the way forward on the matter, other than saying Jersey cooperated and provided the information to the ACB.
The statement states that on or about March 7 2014, the
DPP of the Republic of Malawi sought assistance of the AG for Jersey in obtaining documentary evidence to assist in criminal investigation conducted by the ACB into Bingu’s estate.
“Assistance was duly granted and documentary evidence produced by Jersey was dispatched to Malawi on June 6 2014.
“Further, a written acknowledgement was sent to Jersey by the then DPP, on July 4 2014. The DPP then forwarded the documentary evidence to the then director general of the ACB, who acknowledged receipt of the same on July 4 2014,” reads the Tuesday statement. That statement fell short of indicating that the said information could not be traced.
The two agencies said the statement was seeking to correct information that was given out to Nation Online titled ‘ACB helpless on Bingu’s K61 billion probe’.
Former president Joyce Banda, who took over power after Bingu’s death, initiated the probe by first instructing an evaluator—Jeremiah Chihana—to value his wealth.
ACB had hinted in last August’s interview that the case file remains open with the hope that investigations would continue when that information is received.
In the investigation, launched towards the May 2014 Tripartite Elections, Malawi authorities asked for the information through the office of the AG in Jersey, an island ruled by the Duke of Normandy—a title held by the reigning Monarch of the United Kingdom (UK), though unrelated to those duties as king or queen of the UK.
In early January 2016, Alec Le Sueur, practice manager and director of administration, who is also a media contact for Law Officers’ Department in Jersey, told Nation on Sunday in a response to a questionnaire that he could not provide answers to questions we raised on the fraud probe largely because “any approaches for legal assistance from foreign governments are received in confidence, and equally, our replies are given in confidence to the government requesting our assistance.”
Le Sueur was responding on behalf of a senior legal adviser Andrew Belhomme, an officer in the AG’s office, who in a letter dated May 14 2014, had asked Standard Bank Jersey Limited to disclose information relating to the people under investigation.
Bingu, according to documents from Jersey authorities, which our sister newspaper The Nation had seen at the time the investigations were launched, opened a joint account with his daughter Duwa, where it was believed a suspected offence involving fraud took place.
The ACB, through Interpol, had asked Her Majesty of Jersey to help it investigate the suspected fraud relating to bank account number 58099848, Optimum Account, held in the name of Bingu wa Mutharika and Duwa Kafoteka.
Belhomme, according to the documents The Nation had seen, wrote to the bank in Jersey: “It appears to the Attorney General that there exists a suspected offence involving serious or complex fraud and that there is good reason for him to exercise the powers conferred upon him by the Investigation of Fraud [Jersey] Law, 1991, as amended.
“I have reasons to believe that you have information about the affairs of the persons under investigation and I, therefore, require you to answer questions or…otherwise furnish information with respect to matters relevant to the investigation to myself or to any person designated to assist in this investigation.”
The advocate had said he also required the bank to produce, within 21 days from May 14 2014, true copies of account opening, mandates, reports and details of signatories, know-your-customer documentation, bank statements, paid cheques, transaction advices and correspondence (including records of telephone conversations and meetings and managers’ notes) relating to the account.
The Jersey authorities said the documents required shall cover the period from account opening to date—that is from May 1 2004 to date.
The Tax Justice Network considers the island a tax haven. It is one of the 17 countries that the European Union (EU) named and shamed in its tax haven blacklist. n