A company associated with Batatawala, who faces corruption charges, is reportedly close to securing a multimillion-dollar government contract to supply materials for rural electrification. Meanwhile, a reporter and a source who exposed potential corruption links are allegedly being pursued by the police. PIJ is investigating whether these events are connected.


Karim Batatawala, a businessman long intertwined with various Malawi government departments, has been a dominant supplier of goods and services to entities such as the police, military, immigration, health sectors, medical stores, and the state-owned power company, Escom, through a series of companies. After facing prolonged accusations of corruption, Batatawala was formally charged by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), and his companies were subsequently barred from securing new contracts by the Attorney General via the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDA). As a result, there has been little news about his dealings with the government until recently.

The situation escalated when Batatawala lodged a complaint with the Malawi Police Service (MPS) against a reporter for Malawi24, leading to the journalist’s arrest. He demanded the removal of an article on their website alleging that Batatawala had established several new companies to bypass the government’s ban on his business activities. This story had been online since September of the previous year. Facing mounting pressure from media watchdogs and public outcry, the police released reporter MacMillan Mhone after one night in custody, transporting him 300 km from Blantyre to Lilongwe, despite both the reporter and the businessman residing in Blantyre.

This raises questions about the motives behind the police’s actions and whether a special relationship exists between them and Batatawala. Moreover, it reveals why Batatawala is taking aggressive actions against the media now.

Bembeke Trading Limited

At the centre of journalist MacMillan Mhone’s high-profile arrest is a company linked to Batatawala, named by his estranged son-in-law as one of several proxies for the businessman. Following Batatawala’s complaint, police detained Mhone, and the businessman demanded the removal of an article from the Malawi24 website that referenced this company.

The PIJ can exclusively reveal that amid the drama of the arrest, which saw police bundling journalist MacMillan Mhone into a cell and transporting him from Blantyre to the capital, Lilongwe, a high-stakes drama is also unfolding in the boardrooms of Capital Hill. Here, Bembeke Trading Limited is reportedly on the verge of securing a lucrative contract with the Ministry of Energy to supply the Malawi Rural Electrification Programme (MAREP).

On paper, Bembeke Trading Limited is owned by Austin Rajabu. However, sources have confirmed to PIJ that senior government officials suspect the true owner is Batatawala. He has a longstanding history of supplying electrical goods to state-owned companies and departments. Still, he is currently barred from government business due to major corruption allegations related to his numerous dealings with the government.

Both the Ministry of Energy and the PPDA confirmed to PIJ that questions about the ownership of Bembeke Trading Limited have emerged, prompting the PPDA to withhold contract approval for the company.

Alfonso Chikuni, Principal Secretary for Energy, confirmed that the Ministry selected Bembeke Trading Limited to supply materials for MAREP Lot 10 after an evaluation process. Subsequently, the report was sent to the PPDA to seek a ‘No Objection’ authorization to continue with the procurement process. However, the PPDA has withheld this authorization.

“Through a communication from PPDA, we were informed that they have withheld a no objection for lot number 10 because the supplier is not allowed to do business with the Government of Malawi since he is connected to certain individuals,” Chikuni said.

The Ministry has expressed uncertainty about whether Batatawala indeed owns the company.

“Though we are not sure about the ownership of the company, Bembeke Trading Limited is registered in the name of Austine Rajabu who others are saying is a Driver to Batawalara’s Son, Muhamad Suhail. Thus, according to the Documentation they presented in their Bid Document,” adds the statement.

When contacted, PPDA Public Relations and Communication Manager Kate Kujaliwa declined to confirm whether the ‘No Objection’ was granted, referring the matter back to the Ministry.

“You may contact the Ministry of Energy being the Procuring and Disposing Entity (PDE) which submitted a request for No Objection for MAREP 9 additional materials on the response given by the Authority…“You may also contact the Ministry of Energy on the contract price it recommended to award the bidder in question,” said Kujaliwa in her written response to PIJ. 

However, the PPDA has debarred a total of four current MAREP suppliers for periods ranging from one to five years, effective from 2021 through 2027. Specifically, Starmile General Dealers is barred for three years from May 2021 to May 2024, Thuphiemed for five years from July 2022 to July 2027, Mzamathu Investment for one year from October 2022 to October 2023, and Dawn Investment for two years from October 2022 to October 2024.

Batatawala Pictured After An Earlier Court Hearing

Batatawala denies ownership of the company and any connection to Rajab, the alleged owner.

“I don’t own Bembeke Trading and have absolutely nothing to do with that business entity,” he said. I have enquired from my personnel office and have been told that Mr Rajab has never been one of my employees,” Batatawala told PIJ in a questionnaire response.   

Batatawala’s quest to address the issue of proxy companies extends beyond journalists. The businessman is also seeking the arrest of his son-in-law, Shabib Jussab, a British national residing in Saudi Arabia. In their eagerness to assist, the Malawi Police Service has submitted a request to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) and the Attorney General, seeking support for Jussab’s extradition from Saudi Arabia.

The son-in-law, Shabib Jussab, provided the information for a report that journalist MacMillan Mhone published, alleging that Batatawala owns Bembeke Trading through proxies. Batatawala has a longstanding history of supplying materials to the government through various companies and denies any connections. He has also been debarred from conducting any business with the government, which sources claim is why he is using a proxy.

The extradition request, filed under case number BT/CR/02/0823 at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, cites cyberstalking crimes and offensive communication. These charges are closely related to those levelled against journalist MacMillan Mhone.

According to a police investigative report, Batatawala alleged that his son-in-law used someone else’s phone to send him offensive comments, threaten him, and engage in cyberstalking. In support of the extradition request, the police submitted screenshots of text exchanges between Batatawala and his son-in-law to the court, which the PIJ reviewed.

“Malawi and Saudi Arabia are both members states of Interpol, and the warrant of arrest was sent through the Interpol notice to NCB Riyad in Saudi Arabia. The response is that they have requested us to send the official request to extradite the suspect through diplomatic channels addressed to the Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecution. It is against this background that we forwarded this file to your action,” reads a memo to the DPP by Police Headquarters Officer-in-Charge for prosecution, Levison Mangani. 

Christopher Doba, the police investigating officer who arrested journalist MacMillan Mhone, is also central to the efforts to extradite the estranged son-in-law, according to court documents reviewed by PIJ.

However, senior government lawyers have described the extradition request as ‘laughable’ and a misuse of state resources to resolve a trivial family dispute. One lawyer highlighted Batatawala’s longstanding close relationship with the police as a likely key motivator.

“Batatawala has a long-standing relationship with the Malawi Police Service, supplying various items. The senior officers are essentially his business partners,” a senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the subject’s sensitivity, told PIJ.

Batatawala has denied accusations of misusing the criminal justice system or influencing the police. In an interview, he stated that his complaints against his son-in-law and the journalists were filed with the police in the same manner as any other aggrieved member of the public would.

“The issue concerning my former son-in-law has always been handled by the Cyber Crimes branch of the Police after I had lodged a complaint with them in my right as an injured citizen. I have absolutely nothing to do with how the Police have decided to handle the same, and to suggest that I am “using” the Police is like adding insult to my injury. Other than that, I have no further comments to make about this rather regrettable matter,” wrote Batatawala in his WhatsApp response to our questionnaire.

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