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Malawi's Ex-President Says Government Politically Persecuting Him

FILE - Former Malawi President Peter Mutharika says by freezing his bank accounts, the governmnet is persecuting him. Authorities say they are merely following the law. (Photo - Lameck Masina/VOA)

Malawi's former president, Peter Mutharika, has accused the government of politically persecuting him. During a televised news conference at his residence in Mangochi district Saturday, Mutharika cited the freezing of his bank accounts and arrests of his party officials over corruption allegations as examples. But authorities say they are only following the law.

Mutharika, who lost to President Lazarus Chakwera during last year’s elections, faces legal action for administrative blunders committed when he was in office.

The latest is the case in which he is expected to pay about $87,000 in legal fees by wrongly forcing Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda and Justice of Appeal Edward Twea on leave during his administration.

And in August, Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau froze bank accounts of Mutharika and his wife, Gertrude, as part of investigations into his role in a scandal in which bags of cement worth about $6.6 million entered the country without being taxed.

Various efforts by Mutharika’s lawyers to have his bank accounts unfrozen have proven unsuccessful.

Mutharika told reporters the freezing of his accounts is persecution of the highest form.

“The aim is simply to create hardship on me. Even the account where my retirement package comes in, that account is closed. So, my retirement benefits cannot come in. The idea is to make me totally incompetent financially to make me impossible to support the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party), and therefore to destroy the DPP and make a one-party dictatorship,” he said.

Banging on a table as he spoke, Mutharika called on the government to end what he said was a tendency of persecuting former presidents.

“Persecuting former heads of state should stop in this country. It doesn’t happen anywhere else. It doesn’t happen in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Rwanda, anywhere else. It’s only in this country where this kind of stupidity continues to go on. I want it to stop,” Mutharika said.

Latim Matenje, a political analyst with the Political Science Association of Malawi, says Mutharika is justified to think that the government is persecuting him, considering the time his accounts have been frozen.

“From my perspective, freezing the accounts of somebody right from August up to April, I mean, it’s inhumane. One would wonder what that person is eating. So, for him to claim that I am not surprised,” he said.

Matenje said the government can prove Mutharika is wrong by letting him access his bank accounts as the probe into the case progresses. Matenje, however, faulted Mutharika for making similar comparisons to a former president.

“The call itself is justifiable but not from him. It is surprising it’s him doing so because he did the same to Dr. Joyce Banda because she left Malawi; she went outside because of persecution here,” Matenje said.

In 2014, Banda, who was Mutharika’s predecessor, fled the country after being implicated in what became known as the Cashgate scandal, in which government officials siphoned off millions of dollars of public money.

Reacting to Mutharika’s accusations, government spokesperson Gospel Kazako said Mutharika is wrong by alleging persecution.

Kazako, who also serves as the minister of information, says the government is only following the laws of the country.