BY PIJ INVESTIGATIONS
UK-based businessman Zuneth Sattar travelled to Malawi recently to influence the ongoing investigation into alleged state capture level corruption by Malawi and UK authorities, a court in the United Kingdom has been told.
Specifically, the National Crimes Agency (NCA), which in an unprecedented move is cooperating with Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to investigate Sattar, believes the influential businessman travelled to Malawi to influence the judicial review case into the arrest of his associate Ashok Nair.
The High Court in Lilongwe controversially released Ashok Nair, who was arrested by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) alongside former Minister of Lands Kezzie Msukwa, following a judicial review into his arrest.
The Uxbridge Magistrates Court in London–through Deputy District Judge Stein, eventually rejected Sattar’s application to the court that sought an amendment of current bail conditions so that he can be able to travel to Malawi and Dubai.
The judge cited the seriousness of the alleged crimes as reason for rejecting the plea.
The NCA opposed the application, arguing that the trip was aimed at further interfering in the investigation which in October 2021 led to his arrest by the NCA in Leicester UK, alongside his wife.
The investigation focuses on alleged corruption relating to mainly three public contracts awarded between 2019 and 2021 by both the Peter Mutharika and Lazarus Chakwera administrations and related to military and police procurement of armoured personnel carriers, food rations, and water cannons.
Sattar, 41, has not been officially charged with any wrongdoing and denies all allegations, a position buttressed by his lawyers in court on Wednesday.
A lawyer representing the NCA, Christopher Convey, described the trip to Malawi as “an operation” that sought “to influence the outcome of a judicial review” currently being determined by Malawi’s High Court which is examining the arrest of an associate of Sattar.
The NCA further believes that Sattar is connected to protests that have been held in Malawi against the ACB boss Martha Chizuma
The revelations of the trip will further raise question marks over how Malawi authorities failed to arrest Sattar on the said trip.
On Sattar’s wish to travel to Dubai, Convey dismissed the trip as aimed at getting cosmetic hair surgery.
Sattar was represented in court by Simon Farrell QC who described the Malawi-born businessman as “an innocent man”, a man of good character, and an international businessman.
He also said the NCA case was baseless and argued rhetorically. Why should the case affect the international businessman’s business and accused the NCA of painting a false picture of Malawi as a place without the rule of law?
Farrell also dismissed the claim by NCA that the Dubai trip was luxurious, saying Sattar wanted to visit his Dubai bank branch and was also seeking important medical treatment in Dubai.
He said Sattar’s trip to Malawi was aimed at visiting his family.
Sattar’s case has gripped public imagination in Malawi, amid fears that the government is deliberately shielding Sattar from prosecution and other forces are working to defeat the course of justice, by forcing out of office the ACB director Martha Chizuma.
Chizuma, however, appears to enjoy overwhelming public support. In April, Police cancelled a scheduled interview with her after civil society groups threatened protests amid fears that the state wanted to use its investigation into her alleged breaking of oath of office to arrest her.
Fears about official collusion with Sattar were further raised when PIJ revealed that despite government pronouncement on the case—the country’s treasury released funds to the military and police to pay for a controversial contract to supply water cannons which were still under investigation by the anti-corruption agencies hence legally under suspension.
Malawi’s Attorney General, Thabo Nyirenda, who publicly announced termination of all Sattar contracts and announced his debarment from any future public procurement, in private, approved the controversial payments.