MALAWI’S Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has launched a corruption and abuse of office investigation against officers for the Malawi Prison Services after an investigation published by the Platform for Investigative Journalism (PIJ), revealed that Yunhua Lin, a convicted wildlife products smuggling kingpin, was illegally allowed outside the prison to conduct business and enjoy the luxury of staying at his house or home. 

PIJ published evidence in the form of footage and pictures of Lin accompanied at various places by prison guards who are visibly identifiable and also published dates of his known outings. 

The PIJ confirmed specific Lin dates Lin was recorded outside the prison conducting business other than the alleged hospital visits he claimed he was making. Among others, evidence from 2022 to as recent as April 2023 shows Lin visiting his farm in Lumbadzi on the outskirts of the capital city under prison escort, visiting a supermarket, spending time at his residence in Area 9, where he would change his prison uniform into civilian clothes, attending a meeting at a garage, for example, called Singapore GT Investments in Biwi Township while uncuffed, among others.

In a written response to the PIJ, the country’s graft-busting body also confirmed it had launched its investigation into the affair.

“We can confirm that we recorded a complaint, and an investigation is already underway,” ACB Director Martha Chizuma told PIJ.

According to sources close to the investigation, the bureau will focus on whether prison authorities have benefited materially from the arrangements with Lin or committed any other offences under the Corrupt Practices Act. 

According to the Malawi Prison Services, Lin, as a prisoner, committed an offence by providing wrong information to the authorities on the reasons for his exit and whereabouts outside the prison. Additionally, the prison guards who aided Lin also committed offences.

The Malawi Prison Services also pledged an investigation into the matter in a statement sent to the PIJ when contacted with the investigation findings.

It reads: “Here at the Head Office, it’s the first time we hear such news. Inmates have the right to go to the hospital and conduct transactions at the bank under the supervision of the officers assigned by the Officer-in-Charge as long as due process is followed. These are very serious allegations, and we are not taking them lightly. We have instituted an internal investigation to get to the bottom of what is happening. Should we establish that the allegations are true, serious action will be taken against all involved.”   

Aubrey Kabisala, a security lecturer at Mzuzu University who, among others, teaches correctional services, told the PIJ that the law only allows inmates on parole to serve sentences at home with supervision and medical attention. Court appearances are the only other times convicted inmates are allowed outside prison. 

“The principle of incarceration, why you are putting someone in isolation, the incarceration itself suspends certain rights of a convict. Every other person has a right to do any other business, but if you are convicted, you cannot be doing business or going to the bank to transact,” said Kabisala.

Meanwhile, Lin appealed his conviction and was jailed to a 14-year sentence in September 2021 after being convicted of trading in rhino horn, conspiracy, and money laundering. He is widely referred to as the leader of a notorious Chinese gang illegally trading in wildlife products from Malawi and other countries in Southern Africa. 

Natural Resources Justice Network (NRJN) Chairperson Kossamu Munthali scoffed at the revelations. He described the situation as “sad”, “serious’ ‘ and “shocking” and added that the actions were a “big joke” and a “serious mockery of justice” and called for heads to roll. He also warned that the country’s criminal system could not afford to merely engage in a talk show to repair its image and public confidence.

“When you spend your meagre resources as a country to support a justice system and still see such interesting trends—where offenders are treated like this. This is quite serious. Any Malawian of goodwill wouldn’t want to hear such stories. 

He added: “It’s really like the prisons are for the poor. We have already been robbed of precious minerals and resources; those responsible are left scot-free. It bears the question whether we have the right people in these offices. These are serious revelations. We need the officers responsible to be disciplined. It can’t be a talk show again. This is so sad.”