BLANTYRE, MALAWI - A senior member of Malawi's former ruling party has become the seventh person to be jailed for involvement in the multimillion-dollar government corruption scandal known as Cashgate.
A Malawi High Court in the eastern city of Zomba sentenced businessman Oswald Lutepo to 11 years in prison. Lutepo pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiring to defraud the government and money laundering.
Lutepo, 37, was arrested in 2013 on suspicion of taking money from the government through ghost companies that provided no state services.
He was accused of siphoning about $9.3 million, making him the second-largest beneficiary of the 70 civil servants, politicians and business owners arrested in the $32 million scandal.
After the hearing, Lutepo told journalists the sentence was not fair, but hinted he was focused on the future.
"The media has not been fair to me," he said. "You have branded me a thief, a person who has been faking madness and all that. But, you know, there is always an end to everything. What I am looking forward to is a new life, because I want to move on.”
Lutepo’s attorney, Oswald Mtupila, said he was shocked by the judgment. He said he had urged the court to consider the fact that Lutepo was a first-time offender and was remorseful about what he had done. He said his client should have a sentence of less than 12 months and that the court should consider a suspended sentence.
“My immediate reaction is that of shock, and indeed thoughts of appealing can not be avoided,” Mtupila said.
Anti-Corruption Bureau Deputy Director Reyneck Matemba said the sentence was fair, but noted that "we have a lot of way to go, and Mr. Lutepo’s witness statement as well as his confession have given us a lot of work to do. And there are other people that we have to investigate further that Mr. Lutepo has told us about.”
Malawians have reacted differently to the length of the sentence.
Dreck Makwangwala, a resident of Chinamwali Township in Zomba, said, “The money which he stole was enough for hospitals — enough for every development that would have taken place in Malawi. Eleven years is not enough for the crime that Mr. Lutepo did to Malawians. It is the same as killing. He should have been sentenced to death.”
But businesswoman Jennifer Lipenga said the court could have given Lutepo a lenient sentence, considering that “he uses a wheelchair” and that he has refunded some of the money he stole from one of his companies.
The Cashgate scandal that came to light in 2013 forced several donors, including the European Union, to withhold their 40 percent contribution to the country’s national budget.
Some information for this report came from AFP.