By Margaret Kudantha
Two Malawian businessmen accused of harnessing state agencies –including the office of the president – to their private battle with a former business associate also feature prominently as suspects in the Cashgate scandal, the CIJM can reveal.
Zuneth and Ahmed Sattar owns Ocean Industries Limited registered in Malawi and fronts two companies registered in Singapore and Hong Kong which were also implicated in the Cash gate because they were contracted to procure goods for the Malawi Defense Force and the Malawi Police Services.
OIL bagged close $ 70 million allegedly through the Malawi Police Service quartermaster section for the supply of reflector jackets, boots, riot gear and teargas canisters. The same company is linked to Paramount group, according to Allan Ntata, former president Bingu wa Mutharika legal Adviser.
Despite the evidence, neither of them has been arrested or charged.
The country’s graft busting body, the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) in a statement last month remained tongued tied when asked to provide details of Zuneth and Ahmed Sattar and their companies’ involvement in the Cashgate scandal.
ACB senior Public Relations Officer Egrita Ndala said ACB cannot discuss which companies or individuals are being investigated as doing so is unethical and may prejudice the investigation process.
“However, it should be understood that the purpose of every investigation is to establish the facts about an allegation. Sometimes the facts may exonerate some suspects and it may be difficult to clear their names in the public eye if the Bureau reveals names of subjects of an investigation prematurely.
“This may be costly to Malawians as the subjects may sue Government for defamation and as a result, Government may end up losing a lot tax payers’ money through compensations,” Ndala said.
But a senior State House official confided, on strict condition of anonymity, to CIJM that Ocean Industries owner Zuneth Sattar, main suspect in K577 billion Cashgate bought and delivered a top-of-the-range Lexus LX 570 for President Peter Mutharika in an apparent bid to bribe the country’s leadership to stifle any efforts to conclude Cashgate cases against them. A Lexus LX 570 is pegged at $136 986.
According to our source, the Sattar’s largesse also included a Toyota Prado for Mutharika’s most trusted aide Ben Phiri and an Audi for former Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale.
However, both Malawi’s financial czar Goodall Gondwe and Mutharika`s spokesperson person trashed the allegations saying the purchase of the vehicles was a normal government transaction budgeted for in 2015.
“We gave them a budget and they decided to use it the way they found fit. We don’t control it,” Gondwe told Malawi’s poplar online media NyasaTimes.
As reported by the CIJM last month, the Sattar brothers have also been accused of hijacking a multibillion-kwacha agribusiness from an Indian investor, Shekhar More, with the help of the Malawian police and revenue service.
More says he was arrested on trumped-up charges framed by the revenue service and tortured while in police custody.
He also alleges the Sattars used their purported connection with President Peter Mutharika to intimidate him into surrendering his shares in Tamanna Solvex Africa.
Mutharika’s office denied the allegation, saying the president “has no business connection of any kind” with Sattar. “The president knows Mr Zuneth Sattar just like he knows many other people in Malawi and elsewhere.”
More’s allegations of abuse at the hands of the police and the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) “if true are regrettable”, Kalilani said, but “they were certainly done without the president’s knowledge or involvement”.