….Suspected escaping jail
LILONGWE-(PIJ)-Once heralded as the man shot in the face because he was fighting corruption, former Budget Director in the Ministry of Finance Paul Mphwiyo is missing for weeks ahead of a High Court that could potentially send him to jail for years.
Fears that Mphwiyo might have been murdered or kidnapped appear to be getting less traction.
The majority of people in the security apparatus, including police and intelligence sources who have spoken to PIJ, believe Mphwiyo has escaped from prosecution. His whereabouts, none seems to have a clue so far.
The sources believe the disappearance is more connected to a decision last month (June) by the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, which cleared the High Court of Malawi to proceed with its judgment in the nine-year K2.4 billion Cashgate case involving the former Ministry of Finance budget director and 17 others. If convicted in that case, Mphwiyo faces over ten years in prison.
The judgment by a single Justice of Appeal, Lovemore Chikopa, dated June 9, 2023, dismissed an application by Mphwiyo and his co-accused for an order to stay proceedings of their case in the High Court.
Mphwiyo and his 18 co-accused persons wanted their criminal trial to start again because the new presiding High Court Judge, Ruth Chinangwa, had taken over the case, replacing Judge Esmie Chombo, who retired.
A curious trail of Mphwiyo’s last movement is emerging, thanks to investigations by police that include analysis of CCTV footage in places he is last known to have visited. He boarded a plane at Kamuzu International Airport. He headed to Blantyre, where after disembarking the brief half-hour flight, he boarded a white Mercedes Benz allegedly driven by a relative whose identity police have but PIJ does not have.
He booked himself at the affluent Ryalls Hotel at the heart of the Blantyre Commercial Business District, but only spent approximately ten minutes inside the hotel. He is seen on CCTV leaving the hotel on foot. He has not been seen since and cannot be reached on all his known mobile phone numbers.
When contacted, Mphwiyo’s wife, Thandizo, was reluctant to speak to PIJ on the matter but confirmed reporting the matter to Lingadzi Police Station.
Mphwiyo’s wife lodged the complaint on 26th June.
“He has been missing since the day I reported the matter to the police. You can ask the police to give you the details,” said Mrs Mphwiyo, refusing to take further questions.
In an interview, National Police Headquarters spokesperson Peter Kalaya confirmed they had launched an investigation into Mphwiyo’s disappearance and suspect he is escaping from prosecution.
“We have a report of missing person which was lodged by his wife. It was lodged here in Lilongwe. The matter is being followed up by our Blantyre Office because he was last reportedly seen in Blantyre,” said Kalaya.
He added: “In our investigations, we have found he boarded a plane and disembarked at Chileka Airport and went to Ryalls Hotel. As police, as we are investigating this, we are also concerned by the fact that he is answering criminal charges, and he might be escaping from the law.”
Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Masauko Chamkakala told PIJ he was unaware of the disappearance of Mphwiyo. His lawyer Michael Goba Chipeta answered, “I have no idea”, before immediately cutting a phone line when contacted for comment.
What is Cashgate?
Cashgate is Malawi’s biggest corruption scandal by the sheer volume of government money that was stolen—estimated at over US$100 million, and the melodrama surrounding how the scandal unraveled.
After government employees, businesses, and politicians conspired to pay themselves public funds via mostly fictitious accounts, junior public officials were found with wads of cash stashed in cars and ceilings before the near-fatal shooting of Paul Mphwiyo shocked the nation.
Former Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara, his associate Pika Manondo and ex-military personnel Macdonald Kumwembe were later found guilty of participating in the conspiracy for the attempted murder.
While initially seen as a hero, as the narrative claimed he was shot fighting the corrupt barons that plotted Cashgate, the story took a dramatic turn when Mphwiyo was arrested for participating in Cashgate.
While on trial, one of the co-accused Cashgate suspects, Leonard Kalonga, later described Mphwiyo as the Cashgate kingpin.
In May 2020, seven years after the Cashgate, Mphwiyo was found with a case to answer by the High Court.