Malawi’s President Mutharika and the police food scandal

There have been mounting calls for the resignation of Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika after a leaked report by the country’s anti-graft agency accused him of receiving a kickback from a 2.8bn kwacha ($3.9m; £2.8m) contract to supply food to the police.

The report claims a businessman deposited 145m kwacha into an account belonging to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), of which the president is the sole signatory.

The president’s spokesperson said the claims were “unfounded” and that Mr Mutharika had done nothing wrong. Civil rights organisations have nonetheless given him 14 days to resign, or say they will take to the streets.

What did the report say?

The political standoff began after a report by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) leaked onto the internet in the last week of June.

The body has been investigating a Malawi police food supply contract, worth around 2.8bn kwacha, that was awarded to a firm owned by businessman Zameer Karim, called Pioneer Investments.

The report alleges that the head of finance of Malawi’s police, Innocent Bottomani, and Mr Karim had “connived” to award Pioneer Investment a contract to provide 500,000 food ration packs.

Days after the contract was signed, Pioneer Investment allegedly asked for a change to the agreed price from 2.3bn kwacha to nearly 2.8bn – the report says the change was fraudulently approved by Mr Bottomani.

When Mr Karim was paid for supplying the food ration packs in 2016, he allegedly deposited 145m kwacha into a DPP bank account that is reportedly managed by President Mutharika.

Both Mr Karim and Mr Bottomani have denied involvement in the alleged fraud.

Did the president use the funds?

That is unclear. The president initially called the report “fake news” and a ploy by his detractors to scupper his chances at next year’s elections.

“I did not personally benefit in any way from the contract and that’s why I am concerned about the lack of truth. I am worried about what our country has become in as far as peddling of fake news on social media is concerned,” President Mutharika told Reuters.

His office later acknowledged the existence of the DPP bank account on 1 July, telling the Malawi newspaper The Daily Times that the account was set up only to support the party’s fundraising activities.

Will the president go?

President Mutharika has been defiant in the face of mounting criticism. He told a DPP party congress that he was not running for “personal gain”.

“I only get 40% from my [monthly] salary of 2.7 million kwacha and the rest goes to government.”

Various civil society groups, the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), and the quasi-religious body, the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), have called for his resignation.

Former President Joyce Banda has also weighed in on the issue of the president’s political future.

“When a president is not involved [in] looting or shady deals he or she does not hesitate to instruct arrests of those involved… he should therefore respond to Malawians’ call to step down,” she told AFP news agency on 3 July.

Mrs Banda was defeated in the 2014 elections in the wake of a vast $32m corruption scandal in 2013 known as Cashgate.

She has denied any involvement.

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Source: BBC

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