UK National Prosecutions Agency (NCA) says its bribery investigations into Zuneth Sattar, a Malawian-born, turned UK citizen accused of grand corruption in Malawi, remains alive.
In a highly publicized court hearing in May, Sattar’s lawyers appeared before the Uxbridge magistrates court and refused to vary the conditions of his police bail, which currently prohibit him from travelling outside the UK.
He was arrested in October 2021, but is yet to be formally charged with any wrongdoing.
The businessman, 41, is being investigated by the NCA for alleged corruption relating to three public contracts with the Malawi government, but robustly denies wrongdoing.
Details of some contracts between companies controlled by Sattar and Malawi’s police and army, worth tens of millions of dollars, such as water cannons purchased at massively overpriced rates, were exposed by the Platform for Investigative Journalism (PIJ).
More explosive details of the allegations were then laid bare during the hearing, prompting political frenzy in Malawi as senior officials including Vice President Saulos Chilima, State House Chief of Staff Prince Kampongamgaga, then Inspector General of Police George Kainja, former Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) director Reyneck Matemba were named to have been involved in various alleged corrupt dealings with Sattar.
Chilima last week became the highest profile official to be arrested in Malawi, following the footsteps of Kainja and Matemba alongside lawyer for Malawi Police Service Mwabi Kaluwa and Public Procurement and Disposal Authority (PPDA) Board Chairperson John Suzi-Banda.
The arrest of Chilima is likely to lead to political ramifications for the governing Tonse Alliance. Malawi’s criminal justice system has been exposed to bitter fights among officials, leading to the controversial arrest and release of Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) boss Martha Chizuma.
That has added to anxiety over the apparent stalemate in several related investigations after some accused persons in Malawi, including a case involving former Lands and Housing Minister Kezzie Msukwa and Sattar’s associate Ashok Nair obtained court orders to stop their prosecutions.
Hence, PIJ has sought answers from the UK law enforcement agency on when it is likely to commence charges against Sattar and whether the Crown Prosecution Services (CPS), which is mandated by UK law to review cases before prosecution, has completed reviewing the case.
The PIJ further sought NCA’s position on whether itself or the Attorney General in Malawi had commenced the Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) process required for the facilitation of evidence by law enforcement agencies both in the UK and Malawi.
“The only information we are in a position to offer is that the investigation is ongoing. We would not comment on the other aspects you raise,” NCA Press Officer Stuart Hadley told PIJ in a written response.
The PIJ also wrote the Crown Prosecution Service and ACB for comment but while the agency acknowledged being the recipient of the request for information, the agency was yet to respond as we went to press.
While appearing in UK court for the bail application in April, a barrister representing the NCA, Christopher Convey, claimed that it was believed by the NCA that Sattar had also previously travelled to Malawi as part of an operation “seeking 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.
Convey also said that Sattar sought “caviar treatment” cosmetic surgery in Dubai for hair loss.
Simon Farrell QC, representing Sattar, argued that his client should have bail conditions changed to enable him to travel to Dubai and Malawi.
“He is an innocent man of good character, and why should his business be turned upside down? He’s an international businessman crippled by this,” Farrell claimed, adding that his client believed that the NCA case was “misconceived.”
The court heard that Sattar was arrested in October 2021 by the NCA in respect of allegations of corruption relating to three public contracts awarded between 2019 and 2021 with the Malawian government—relating to armoured personnel carriers, food rations and water cannons. Sattar has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Farrell told the court that arguments submitted by the NCA about why bail should be refused were “absurd” and there was “no evidence” to support their claims. “The rule of law operates in Malawi,” he said, adding that NCA claims that Sattar was “believed to be linked to street protests” had no supporting evidence. “Can we have some details please why this is believed…” he told the court. “He should be permitted to travel.”
Farrell said that Sattar wanted to visit Dubai for business reasons, including visiting his Dubai bank branch in person. He also sought medical treatment in Dubai and wanted to visit family in Malawi.
Deputy District Judge Stein refused the application on the grounds that Sattar was being investigated for serious offences outside the UK and said there was no reason to change the existing bail conditions.