On 31 January, the same day that the Network of African Investigative Reporters and Editors called out Africa’s oppressive kleptocrat regimes, Malawian investigative editor Gregory Gondwe received note that the Military Police in that country were looking for him.
The reason why the security forces had set out to take him in ‘for a chat’ at military barracks, he heard, was an article he had published two days before, on January 29th. The article had published documents showing that the military was in the process of paying close to US$ 20 million to a businessman who had been barred from transacting with the Malawi government.
“Endangering state security”
As soon as he received the message from military sources that a hunt for him had been launched, Gondwe, the editor in chief of Malawi’s Platform for Investigative Journalism (PIJ), informed NAIRE that he was going into hiding. “I am trying to be careful”, he wrote in a message to the network, later adding in a Facebook post that he had been told that the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) “intends to arrest me for allegedly ‘endangering state security’. Given the potential for my situation to be 'accidentalised' with a seemingly plausible explanation posthumously, I've heeded the advice to protect myself. In this line of work, death can be disguised as an accident, and no hospital can revive a life once lost.” Two individuals who exposed and fought corruption were murdered in Malawi in recent years. ZAM wrote about it here.
The report that apparently provoked the ire of Malawi’s military had included documents showing that the highest levels in the procurement department of the MDF had gone ahead with a US$ 20 million purchase of 32 Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC’s) from a company called Malachite FZE, which is one of the companies headed by Malawian-born, UK-based businessman Zuneth Sattar.
A long record of questionable deals with the Malawi government
According to Malawi’s Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB), Sattar has a long record of doing questionable deals with the Malawi government. After Sattar was first arrested in the UK in October 2021 for alleged corruption involving three public contracts with the Malawi government, the ACB and Malawi Attorney-General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda barred companies linked to Sattar, including Malachite FZE, from any future involvement in public procurement in Malawi. Sattar has rejected all allegations of corruption throughout.
The Platform for Investigative Journalism in Malawi has consistently followed the Sattar case, uncovering tens of millions of US dollars’ worth of questionable deals in the run up to the banning. In his recent story, Gregory Gondwe quoted a communication from the Malawi Defence Force showing that the equivalent of US$ 4,9 million as a first payment was made by Malawi for Malachite FZE’s Armoured Personnel Carriers on 20 November 2023. The same communication detailed that the balance of the US$ 20 million was still to follow: “This was an advance payment with tabulated details of payment towards the contracting indicating that the whole deal is worth US$19,933,600, and with the advance payment done, the balance is US$14,950,200,” the story quoted the communication as saying. A Malawi Defence Force letter, also shown in the report, specified that the payments were to be made through an intermediary company called the International Armoured Group. Bank proof of the first payment of US$ 4,9 million to this company was also published alongside the story.
All questions met a wall of silence
According to the PIJ, all questions posed by it to relevant authorities in Malawi on the matter met a wall of silence.
Several civil society organisations in Malawi, including the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and the Malawi association of International News Correspondents, have come out in support of Gondwe and the PIJ. MISA issued a statement saying that it “engaged Army Commander General Phiri and Attorney-General Nyirenda” and that these “both assured (MISA) that there are no plans to arrest Gondwe or intimidate him.”
Gregory Gondwe remains in hiding. ZAM will publish updates as received.