BLANTYRE, MALAWI —
Malawi's Anti-corruption Bureau, or ACB, has arrested a former agriculture minister and two others linked to a corruption scandal involving maize imports. Malawi was importing the grain to avert food shortages after flooding and drought wrecked last year's harvest.
ACB officials Wednesday announced the arrests of former agriculture minister George Chaponda, along with businesswoman Grace Mijiga Mhango and Rashid Tayub, an entrepreneur based in Blantyre.
They are accused of illegal actions in the procurement of 100,000 tons of maize from Zambia by Malawi’s grain marketer ADMARC, the Agriculture Development and Marketing Corporation.
Mijiga chairs Malawi's Grain Traders and Processors Association.
The arrests come after two commissions of inquiry established by President Peter Mutharika and parliament in January recommended the investigation into Chaponda and others linked to the scandal, dubbed “Maizegate.”
Reyneck Matemba is the ACB's deputy director. He told reporters the defendants have not yet been formally charged.
“We normally charge our suspects towards the end, depending on the information we have received from them. Currently they are being interviewed, Matemba said.”
The ACB, however, said in a statement Wednesday that Chaponda is likely to be charged with “corruptly performing public functions, misuse of public office and possession of foreign currency" while Mhango “is likely to be charged with forgery.”
Tayub is expected to answer charges of influencing a public officer to misuse public office.
In February, President Mutharika fired Chaponda after investigators found nearly $200,000 in cash in the minister’s home.
Documents leaked to local media in December point to irregularities. The documents indicate ADMARC bought the consignment of maize for $34.5 million from a private Zambian trader.
The records allege the maize could have been purchased from Zambia's government for about two-thirds of that, or $21.5 million.
Both Chaponda and Mhango deny wrongdoing. ADMARC has denied the allegations.
Charles Kajoloweka is among civil society leaders who have been pushing for justice in the scandal.
He told VOA that Chaponda's arrest has come too late.
“It’s a progressive action but it is coming a little late especially when you consider that these [commission of] inquiry reports were released some six months ago.”
Kajoloweka says he feels the delay confirms that Chaponda, a senior member of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, had continued to enjoy protection “under the current political leadership.”
In a statement, however, ACB officials have ruled out any political interference in the matter, saying “The process of investigations is complicated and needs to be conducted with due process and detailed care.”