Malawi’s vice-president has been charged with taking bribes from a British businessman who has been under investigation in the UK for alleged corruption in the southern African nation.
Saulos Chilima, deputy to President Lazarus Chakwera, appeared in court in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital, after he was arrested by the country’s anti-corruption bureau on Friday. Chilima did not submit a plea and has asked for more time to study the charges. He was released on bail.
The arrest will deepen a political crisis in one of the world’s poorest nations over allegations that officials in successive administrations helped Zuneth Abdul Rashid Sattar plunder the state by giving him overpriced deals to supply the Malawian security forces. Sattar, a British citizen who was born in Malawi, has denied wrongdoing.
The Malawian anti-corruption bureau alleged in a public hearing that Chilima “received advantage in [the] form of money amounting to $280,000 and other items from Zuneth Sattar” last year as a reward for helping two Sattar-linked companies gain contracts from the Malawian government. Chilima was charged with three counts of corruption, two counts of receiving bribes, and one count of failing to report bribes to police.
A London court heard earlier this year that Sattar is being investigated by the UK National Crime Agency for alleged corruption relating to Malawian state contracts, and that he was arrested in the UK last year but has not been charged with any wrongdoing. A lawyer for Sattar did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the charges against Chilima.
Chilima, a former telecom executive, was deputy to Peter Mutharika, the former president, but formed his own party and then allied with Chakwera’s Malawi Congress party to challenge fraudulent elections in 2019.
They defeated Mutharika in a fresh election a year later, the first time the opposition has won such a rerun against an incumbent in African history.
A rift between the men grew after the vice-president was publicly identified by the anti-corruption bureau as a person of interest in the Sattar probe. Chakwera has pledged to allow anti-graft investigations to run their course in a country which is battling intense food and fuel shortages.
This week Malawi became the first poor country to borrow from the IMF’s new ‘food shock window’ facility, designed to deal with the surge in global food prices that was triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Malawi, which will access $88mn under the facility, is also seeking a wider IMF loan to help rebuild foreign exchange reserves but must also seek debt relief from international creditors.