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Malawi Plans Arrest of Former President Over Cashgate Scandal

FILE - Former President of Malawi Joyce Banda speaks during a conference on women in development programme in Lagos, Nigeria, July 28, 2016.
FILE - Former President of Malawi Joyce Banda speaks during a conference on women in development programme in Lagos, Nigeria, July 28, 2016.

Malawi's government says former President Joyce Banda risks facing arrest over a corruption case known as Cashgate. Banda is also accused of misusing money for the presidential jet she sold during her administration.

Government authorities said Friday an arrest warrant for Banda issued in 2017 is still valid and it is a matter of time before authorities act on it. But Banda says she is not fazed by the threat she describes as a political witchhunt.

Joyce Banda became the country’s first female president in 2012 when then-president Bingu wa Mutharika died from cardiac arrest.

However, her term was marred by a corruption scandal known as Cashgate in which more than $32 million was siphoned out of government coffers.

More than 60 suspects, including business people and government officials were arrested in connection to the scandal.

Government spokesperson Henry Muss says court testimonies by those who have been convicted and are serving jail sentences clearly point to Joyce Banda as the initiator of Cashgate.

“One Oswald Lutepo, now serving [11 years] sentence in jail, stated that the looted money was delivered to Joyce Banda," he said. "Government believes that in the fullest of time, professionally determined by the law enforcement agencies, Joyce Banda will be called to account for her part in this Cashgate case.”

In 2017 police issued an arrest warrant for Banda, who was then in self-imposed exile in the United States. But no arrest was made when Banda returned to Malawi last year.

Mussa also says Banda will be held accountable for money from the sale of the presidential jet in 2013, which her administration said was used to buy relief maize.

“In fact, for records, the plane was sold; the word is undervalued for $15 million. Out of the $15 million what is showing is 10 percent of that about $1.5 million dollars have gone towards purchase of maize. But 90 percent simply vanished. we can not trace it,” he said.

The threat of arrest comes weeks after Banda's People’s Party (PP) made a political alliance with the main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) led by Lazarus Chakwera, one of the challengers of incumbent president Peter Mutharika in the coming May elections.

People’s Party spokesperson Ackson Kalaile told VOA the threat is a political ploy to intimidate Banda so that she cannot successfully campaign for the PP/MCP alliance in the May elections.

“They are doing that just to intimidate our principal so that we should not campaign freely for the Malawi Congress Party and there is not any direct link [to Cashgate]. In 2018, 13th January, the director of Anti-Corruption Bureau said they had tried to find out here and there, but there is no direct link to her excellency Dr. Joyce Banda.”

Political analyst Vincent Kondowe says Banda should be brought to justice if there is evidence of wrong doing, but he questions the involvement of government politicians in the matter.

“Why did not the state institutions themselves be allowed to arrest Joyce Banda. Because the press conference is some kind of dramatization of the whole case against Joyce Banda," he said. "So for me, they are trying to dramatize and create political hyperbole, which would unnecessarily bring in tensions, as we are drawing closer to the 21st May elections, so that she should not campaign as much as possible for Malawi Congress Party.”

Speaking Saturday at a political rally in northern Malawi, Banda said she will not be intimidated by the government statement because she knows she is innocent.