The Anti-Corruption Bureau has finished long awaited investigations into businessman Zuneth Sattar leading to fears that the current court case by a private citizen as well as activist Bon Kalindo asking for removal of ACB director and arrest of a journalist who refused to divulge a source of a story connected to the investigation could be part of a conspiracy to block progress that could lead to prosecution.

An explosive cache of documents sourced by the PIJ which led to police arresting Director Gregory Gondwe among others revealed that the Attorney General has been approving payments to Sattar despite publicly announcing termination of the contracts which the ACB also suspended until the end of the investigation.

But a crucial detail previously not widely highlighted in the documents is the communication by ACB to the Attorney General that the bureau is near completion of its Sattar case.

“On our side, we believe that all factors considered should be completed by the end of April 2022. We however kindly seek your opinion on how we proceed with this request,” Chizuma told the AG.

And since the leak of the document, unprecedented upheavals have surrounded the case. First, the AG ordered the police to hunt down the leaker of the documents and police invaded the PIJ office with search orders to confiscate both equipment and force its journalists to reveal the source.

The target of the AG’s actions was none other than the ACB boss, with evidence extracted from PIJ potentially damaging the ACB boss, sources argue.   

Then, in Mzuzu, Frighton Mphompho, a hitherto unknown private citizen on the very day Gondwe was arrested—6th April 2022—commenced a legal case for a review of Chizuma’s conduct, alleging that she has committed offences against the Corrupt Practices Act and the Penal Code.

The complaint is brought under section 83 (1) (a) of the criminal procedure and Evidence Code wants the court to assess whether Chizuma did not flout the law when she was recorded discussing the state of corruption in the country, including venting frustrations on the Sattar case, with a third party.

President Lazarus Chakwera publicly reprimanded Chizuma for the audio but decided against her removal, despite agitation from some of his legal advisors.

According to sources in government, the timing of all the events point to a possible conspiracy to thwart the Sattar case. (The Platform for Investigative Journalism could not independently verify this.)  

According to directions in the Mzuzu court case, the magistrate wants the DPP Steve Kayuni—who noticeably was present at a press briefing where the Attorney General defended the amnesty for corruption suspects including Sattar, and has controversially rejected the ACB’s request to prosecute Sattar’s associate Ashok Nair alongside former Minister Lands Kezzie Msukwa, to decide the fate of Chizuma, alongside the police.

PIJ sent questions to DPP Steven Kayuni on whether the arrest of Gondwe was part of the investigation and whether his previous controversy over the Sattar case would make him unsuitable for any review into the conduct of Chizuma. He was yet to respond to the questions, despite promising to do so.

ACB spokesperson Egrita Ndala

ACB spokesperson Egrita Ndala confirmed in a written response to PIJ, that the Bureau is coming to completion of the Sattar investigation.

The Bureau is still conducting investigations into the matter and has made substantial progress. The court cases on the judicial review in the Ashok Nair and Kezzie Msukwa matter delayed the process as there was need to prepare properly for the case,” said Ndala.

Analysts and watchdogs, however, agree the coincidence and timings are striking and fear could be part of a plot to fire Chizuma.

“We respect people’s rights to seek court interpretations, however the timing for the judicial review raises more questions than answers, one can only speculate that such acts are not being done in good faith, obviously one would think these are continued efforts to frustrate the ACB Director General. It is very unfortunate that at a time when we expected the country to join forces in the fight against corruption there are some people who are frustrating the efforts, by among other things shielding corruption suspects,” said Willy Kambwandira, executive director for the Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency, (CSAT), a governance watchdog.

CSAT Executive Director Willy Kambwandira

He said the developments are not surprising and encouraged Malawians “to remain vigilant, and not to be cowed by such acts if we are to win the fight against corruption.”

Charles Kajoloweka, executive director for Youth and Society (YAS), another governance watchdog, concurs with Kambwandira.

“We all know that there have been consistent attempts by different interest groups to undermine the law enforcement institutions in this country, particularly the Anti-Corruption Bureau in the pushback against the state capture level corruption. Definitely, there are going to be several schemes targeting law enforcement institutions, and ACB leadership has been put on the spotlight and they think by removing the Director of ACB they would have launched a successful assault to stop prosecutions,” said Kajoloweka. 

YAS Executive Director Charles Kajolowe

He described as unfortunate the moves and expressed hope that those in authority will realize the significant role law enforcement has in the anti-corruption drive.

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