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Malawi 'Cashgate' Sentence Gets Mixed Reaction

  • Lameck Masina

In Malawi, the corruption scandal known as "Cashgate" shocked the nation when it broke in 2013. Government officials were accused of stealing millions of dollars in public funds through fraudulent contracts.

A Malawian court has just sentenced the prime suspect to 11 years. Several others are serving jail sentences of three to seven years. But many Malawians say they wanted to see even harsher penalties.

Former ruling party official Oswald Lutepo heads to jail for 11 years on charges of conspiracy and money laundering. He is accused of siphoning about $9.3 million from government coffers, something he still denies.

“I am not a thief. They used my account. It depends on who is the judge here,” said Lutepo.

The 37-year-old businessman is the seventh person to be jailed for involvement in Malawi's Cashgate scandal.

Some Malawians think Lutepo’s sentence is too lenient.

“We are suffering a lot in term of hospitals. The roads including people in the villages are suffering," said Benjamin Chaula, a Blantyre resident. "Education is suffering, health is suffering, all because of that issue. If it was a life sentence it would have been fair.”

Some say the Cashgate convictions don't affect high-level government officials who thrive on corruption.

“And we need to uproot that. And we can only uproot that if we start punishing the actors, not the small logs in the whole scam,” said Ernest Thindwa, a political science professor at the University of Malawi.

Malawians see the impact of the Cashgate scandal in daily life.

“Look at how our minority sports get money, like football is struggling, hockey is struggling and netball is struggling in finances," said sports administrator Geoffrey Biya. "You look at MK4.5 billion [$9.3 million], what could have it done if it was used in terms of sport?”

Lutepo's attorney said he may appeal the judgment.

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