June 13, 2024

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The Malawi police accused of abusing the Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act to intimidate the media

6 min read

Fresh from persecuting journalists suspected of working for the opposition at the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and hounding into exile investigative journalist Gregory Gondwe, the Malawi Police has pounced on yet another Journalist in its reign of terror on Journalism.

Journalist Macmillan Mhone has been arrested by the Malawi Police as allegations surface of collusion between the Malawi Police and corruption suspects aimed at muzzling the media.

In a recent move to intimidate reporters, the police arrested Macmillan Mhone, a former journalist for Malawi24, over a story that reported on allegations against Abdul Karim Batatawala, a tycoon who is facing various corruption and fraud charges. The story detailed how Batatawala, despite being barred by the court, allegedly set up proxy companies to continue doing business with the Malawi government.

Ironically, the alleged fraudulent deals also reportedly involved the Malawi Police despite a court orders stopping the Malawi government from engaging with Batatawala.

The officer who contacted the journalist is named Chikumbutso Doba, from the Cyber Crime Division and demanded that Mhone reports to the nearest police station “for questioning”.

Mhone, who is currently employed by the Nation Newspaper, was arrested and detained upon his arrival at Wenela Blantyre Police this morning, in what is being criticised as a misuse of the Cyber Crimes Act.

The contentious story, which Batatawala and some of his alleged proxies demanded be deleted, was published in August last year and cited the tycoon’s son-in-law. The son-in-law alleged that Batatawala was using proxy companies to continue his dealings with the Malawi government, despite a legal prohibition.

When approached, Batatawala refused to discuss the matter with the director of Malawi24, suggesting instead that the said journalist should speak with the Malawi Police.

The Malawi police then informed Mhone that they are detaining him because of a complaint that had been filed by the fraud and corrupt suspect, Mr Abdul Karim Batatawala.

Our attempts to speak with the Malawi Police proved futile as of press time. The National Police Publicist, Peter Kalaya, could not pick up our phone calls or respond to our WhatsApp message. Similarly, Blantyre Police Publicist, Peter Mchiza, did not answer our calls, while his deputy, Mary Chiponda, asked for more time, stating she was not in the office.

Macmillan is the second journalist to be arrested under the regime of Lazarus Chakwera. The first one was Gregory Gondwe for Platform for Investigative Journalist in Malawi (PIJ Malawi).

Here is the full story which Malawi24 had published in August:

Batatawala Accused of Operating a Network of Proxy Companies to Evade the Law and Secure Government Contracts

Details have emerged about how fraud and corruption suspect Abdul Karim Batatawala is allegedly evading the law to secure contracts with the Malawi Government. 

According to inside sources, Batatawala has established a network of companies allegedly registered through proxies to continue winning government tenders despite legal restrictions against him. 

Batatawala’s scheme was first exposed during an intense family field with his son-in-law, Shabir Jussab.

This dispute revealed that the controversial magnate had intended to exploit Shabir Jussab’s companies for government deals, just as he had done with other proxy firms in the past.

However, Jussab’s decision to turn down Batatawala’s request landed him in trouble as the Malawi Police quickly moved in with a warrant of arrest for the British national. 

“Prioritising assistance to alleged fraudsters and corrupt officials detracts from our duties of protecting the public and ensuring that public funds are put into good use,” a concerned Malawi Police official privy to the whole issue had told Malawi24 on condition of anonymity when the story first broke. 

Details of the police officers or prosecutors who obtained the warrant of arrest for Jussab were not revealed by the South West Region Division of the Malawi Police. Malawi24 can also independently verify that Interpol has not issued any Red Notice for Shabir Jussab despite police and media reports.

The Red Notice would require an approval from the Minister of Homeland and knowledge of President Lazarus Chakwera which in turn could pin the two officials into the scandal.  

The warrant issued by the Limbe senior resident magistrate’s court in Blantyre was controversially obtained by the Malawi Police allegedly as way of the ‘law enforcers’ protecting its own interests, considering that Batatawala’s current fraud and corruption charges relate to deals he signed with the Malawi Police.  

Malawi24 can also independently verify that the government is aware of these arrangements where deals were being facilitated through proxies on behalf of Batatawala. 

Among the companies alleged to be utilised by Batatawala is “Tradeview,” registered under the name of Manish Kubavat. Kubavat was previously employed by Batatawala under Pamodzi as a construction supervisor. 

Sources indicate that Batatawala registered the company under Manish’s name while he was still working for him, and subsequently dismissed him and sent him back to India immediately after the company’s registration. This proxy arrangement was intended to allow Batatawala to disown any ownership of the company should there be independent investigations by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) into pontential fraudulent dealings with between the proxies and the government. 

Tradeview has allegedly already been contracted by the Malawi Prisons. Malawi24 could not independently verify these allegations.

“Confirmed orders from Malawi Prisons to TRADEVIEW have been established. This company is situated within Pamodzi Park Building, adjacent to Giraffe Media. Jamie Da Silva, an employee of Batatawala, oversees operations at this company”, one source told Malawi24.  

The second entity, “BEMBEKE Trading,” is registered under Batatawala’s current Lido employee. The company operates under the name of Batatawala’s truck driver, Austin Rajab.

BEMBEKE Trading has been supplying goods to numerous government parastatals.  The third company, “Minolta,” is registered under Batatawala’s brother-in-law, Hussein Jussab.

In addition to these three companies, Malawi24 has also learned of several other proxy firms that source claims Batatawala has been employing to secure government contracts. These companies are all registered under the names of Batatawala’s employees or close associates, and they are all used allegedly to obscure Batatawala’s involvement in government contracts. 

However, Jamie Da Silva and Hussein Jussab all denied connections with Batatawala; saying their business are independent of the business tycoon.  “It’s nonsense, who told you this? Can you say the name of the person who told you this”, da Silva demanded when asked about the allegations that his business is used as a proxy by the tycoon.  

Like Jamie Da Silva, Jussab Hussein also blushed off the allegations. “We don’t do business with anyone else, we do business on our own”.  Asked if his company has any contracts with any government department, Hussein said: “I don’t deal with the government”, responded Jussab Hussein. 

Austin Rajab confessed to owning Bembeke Trading but when asked about being connected to Batatawala and Bembeke being used as a proxy, he asked Malawi24 to “speak with Karim [Batatawala]” instead. 

When Malawi24 insisted on getting the information from him since the company alleged to being used as a proxy was his, he said he needed more time to respond and asked us to call him back “tomorrow” (Tuesday, 15 August).  When contacted on the said date, Rajab did not pick up.

This is just the latest in a long line of allegations of fraud and corruption against Batatawala. He has been accused of embezzling millions of dollars from government projects, and he is currently facing multiple criminal charges.  

In December 2021, Batatawala was arrested by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) on suspicion of fraud and money laundering. He is accused of defrauding the Malawi government of about K1.5 billion (about US$1.5 million) and laundering K2.5 billion (about US$2.5 million) involving Malawi’s Defense Force (MDF), Malawi Police, and the Malawi Immigration Department.

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