BY PIJ REPORTER
The State on Monday morning officially dropped corruption charges against former President Bakili Muluzi after the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) wrote the High Court to discontinue the high profile 1.7 billion kwacha graft case against the former president. Still, the move follows a behind-scenes agreement in which the former president paid back 86 million kwacha of some funds he allegedly diverted from foreign governments for personal use.
The DPP did not indicate details of the out-of-court settlement to the court, but the DPP is obliged by law to provide grounds for discontinuing corruption cases to parliament.
PIJ understands that Muluzi has already paid back the 86 million kwacha to the state through a cheque and that the refunded sum relates to payments from the Japanese government initially amounting to K19 million kwacha allegedly abused by Muluzi.
The total amount to be repaid has been calculated to be K86 million after the state factored in interest and devaluation of the currency.
According to sources, Muluzi denies abusing the rest of the K1.7 billion ($11 million) at the centre of his 14-year-long prosecution. Muluzi’s team reportedly had sought that the repayment should not be publicised.
Aspects of the state legal team see the payment as a partial admission of wrongdoing on behalf of the former state president, but the move comes as the state’s legal teams still believed the state had a winnable case against Muluzi.
But 14 years after Muluzi’s arrest in 2009, six directors of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) later and four presidents later, the political climate had exerted pressure on the Bureau and DPP to drop the charges against Muluzi—a previous move administrations have also mulled over but stopped short of doing.
In an interview, Muluzi’s lawyer Tamando Chokhotho confirmed the payment to the state.
“There were no funds that were diverted. You should understand that as president, he was also in a position more so of an employee of the government and at a time he was leaving office, there were some funds that he was owing to the government and those are the sums that have been paid back with interest. there were no funds that were diverted to Muluzi’s account, the arrangement was that a vehicle was supposed to be purchased and that he pay government all that was supposed to happen at the time was for government to send him note that there was money for a vehicle and this was price for the vehicle,” said Chokhotho.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Masauko Chamkakala, whose office filed for discontinuing the case in court, could neither confirm nor deny the development, saying his office will issue a report to parliament on the matter.
“At this stage, I would not be comfortable to comment further than just to confirm that there is that discontinuance notice. The reason being that I cannot pre-empt my report to parliament,” said Chamkakala.
While raising questions about commitment to fight corruption, the development will not surprise political watchers. Successive heads of the ACB have come under pressure to drop the Muluzi case by consecutive administrations, culminating in former ACB Director Reyneck Matemba recusing himself from prosecuting the case at one point over incessant pressure to drop the case.
While courting Muluzi for political support, successive governing parties have sought to use the case against the former president as a bargaining tool. While Muluzi retired from active politics and his former ruling party United Democratic Front continued to struggle to mount any serious challenge for power, he is perceived to have a substantial support base, particularly in the eastern districts of Machinga and Mangochi, which successive ruling parties have sought to court.
Muluzi’s current relationship with the incumbent, Lazarus Chakwera, is not bad either. The sixth president has regularly met second and deployed Muluzi as one of his envoys in various initiatives, including the response to the recent cyclone Freddy devastation that affected the southern part of Malawi.
In a statement yesterday. Government spokesperson and Minister of Information Moses Kunkuyu sought to assure the public that the move was apolitical and decided on its legal merits by the Director of Public Prosecutions. He said the move followed a review in line with the government’s “uncompromising commitment to the rule of law.”
“This means that Dr Bakili Muluzi, aged 80, from Machinga, who was arrested in 2009 and made to stand trial for 14 years under the three previous administrations, during which billions of taxpayer money were spent on a case that was inconclusive, is now a free man,” added Kunkuyu.
Muluzi’s case was dogged by delays for over a decade, including his constant demands to receive medical treatment outside the country for alleged ill health.
Before his arrest in February 2009, the ACB had been investigating Muluzi who was president of the southern African country for ten years until 2004—for two years on allegations of siphoning money from Taiwan, Morocco, Libya and other donors. At the time, as he is doing now, he denied any wrongdoing.