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Malawi Ex-President Describes His Arrest as Political Manipulation

Partisans of Malawi opposition United Democratic Front are expressing their frustration after the party's presidential candidate was arrested and released shortly over graft charges were brought against him. They described the arrest of former President Bakili Muluzi as yet another political manipulation by President Bingu Wa Mutharika's government to win this year's election.

But the government sharply denies the accusation. Former President Muluzi was arrested on charges of stealing millions of dollars given to the country by international donors, in a case that could potentially damage his bid to run for president again in the May 19 general election. The election is expected to be hotly contested between incumbent president Mutharika and the former president.

Muluzi told reporter Peter Clottey he is innocent of the charges, claiming that his arrest was politically motivated.

"Let me start by saying that four years ago in 2005, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) took me to court on similar allegations they are making about public money. And then the charges were dropped and then the government dismissed the director of the Anti-Corruption Bureau and also the director of public prosecution that time. So, yesterday I was invited to go to the offices of ACB, which I obliged and went there today and the same charges were brought up and they gave me bail to come to the house. So, I'm speaking to you from home," Muluzi pointed out.

He denied transferring public money into his personal bank account.

"You know when people talk about that as somebody who was in government for 10 years I'm saying do they know what they are talking about? There is nowhere in the world where a donor would write a check to a personal account in my name. It is not possible. It is absolutely impossible and it never happens. You know the procedure in government that whenever there is an agreement monies are paid into account number one Malawi. No individual can receive money meant for government in his name. It is absolutely impossible and this is just propaganda," he said.

Muluzi would not comment on allegations that there are inconsistencies in his earnings while he was president of Malawi.

"I would not want to comment about that. I mean let's go to court and there I would give you the side of my story. I've got a team of lawyers and it is not something which is worrying me, but I would not want to talk about that. I mean I have a party to run and there is no way I can keep government money for the purposes of running the party. It is not possible I repeat. But those details will be given in court when time comes. I am completely innocent, I can tell you that," Muluzi noted.

He said most people seem not to understand Malawi's Constitution and the criteria for who can run for the presidency.

"You see this is what people don't understand the Malawi Constitution provides that you cannot be allowed to stand if you are a convicted person. I'm not a convicted person. These are just allegations and we haven't gone to a court. So, it is not correct and I am a presidential candidate ahead of the general elections," he said.

Muluzi said incumbent President Mutharika's ruling party is not confident of victory in this year's election.

"I think they are afraid. They are completely frightened. If they were not why would they be doing all these? And let me tell you that we just had the former president of Mozambique President Joachim Chissano and former President of Ghana John Kufuor just to make sure that tension should be brought down. And even before they left the country I mean President Chissano left just this afternoon, why would you want to bring issues like these now?" Muluzi asked.

Ex-President Muluzi stepped down in 2004 after unsuccessfully trying to change the constitution to allow him to stand again. He however, remains a powerful political force.

Muluzi is constitutionally barred to stand for reelection after serving two consecutive terms as Malawi president from 1994 to 2004. The electrical commission is expected to soon rule on the eligibility of the former president to stand as the presidential candidate for the opposition United Democratic Front party in the May19 general election.

It is not yet clear if the case will prevent the former president for contesting the poll. Some political analysts however believe that any attempt to disqualify the former president could plunge the country into chaos, contending that supporters of the former president might violently protest his disqualification.