Malawi ex-agriculture minister charged over graft

Blantyre, Malawi | AFP | Malawi’s former agriculture minister was Wednesday arrested and charged with graft for allegedly profiting in a $35-million maize import deal from neighbouring Zambia, officials said.

George Chaponda has been battling against graft allegations following the controversial purchase of 100,000 tonnes of maize in July 2016.

Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau spokeswoman Egrita Ndala said that Chaponda had been charged with “misuse of public office and possession of foreign currency”.

He was fired in February after police uncovered $223,000 (212,000 euros) in cash in his house during a raid.

Chaponda was once seen as a close ally and potential successor of President Peter Mutharika.

Malawi was last year forced to import food following a regional drought that hit southern Africa’s agricultural production.

The impoverished country is alleged to have acquired the maize at a highly inflated rate, though Chaponda at that time justified the deal as a critical attempt to “save Malawi from hunger”.

Pressure from parliamentarians led Mutharika in January to order an inquiry into the deal, which was brokered by the state-owned grain trader ADMARC.

Corruption has been prevalent in Malawi’s public sector, and in 2013 several high-ranking officials were implicated in the “Cashgate” scandal, which involved large-scale looting of government coffers.

International donors pulled the plug on aid of around $150 million after auditors said at least $30 million was stolen from state coffers over a six-month period.

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