By Chancy Namadzunda:
Days after the High Court of Malawi rejected businessman Zuneth Sattar’s application to gag media houses, the same court has thrown out an application for permission to apply for judicial review against a move by Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to offer assistance to the United Kingdom Government in obtaining evidence or information in Malawi concerning alleged criminal acts he committed.
Sattar further sought an order of injunction restraining ACB from offering any sort of cooperation to the Government of the United Kingdom investigation agencies in relation to the investigation being undertaken and to restrain the ACB from sharing with the United Kingdom Government investigative agencies or any of their agents or servants, any evidence that was obtained from Sattar during its search and seizure operation or any other time.
Through his lawyer Gilbert Khonyongwa, Sattar argued that ACB move to offer assistance to the United Kingdom Government in obtaining evidence or information in Malawi concerning alleged criminal acts he committed when the competent authority under Regulation 2 of the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters (Designation of Authority) Order and under section 122 (2) and 126 of the Financial Crimes Act to do so is the Attorney General, is illegal.
On October 5, 2021, Sattar was arrested in the United Kingdom on allegations of committing bribery in Malawi with unknown politically exposed persons in Malawi. His home and offices were searched on the same day and several documents and cell phones were taken from him.
Simultaneously, on the same date and around the same time, Sattar’s officers also searched and seized several documents and cell phones from his offices in Malawi at Ocean Industries Ltd.
In his ruling, while agreeing with Sattar that whenever assistance of the Malawi Government is sought by Commonwealth countries in criminal matters by way of obtaining evidence or information from Malawi regarding criminal investigations for offences in those countries, the Attorney General is the appropriate authority to receive requests of such assistance and to deal accordingly, High Court Judge Michael Tembo refused to grant both the application for permission to apply for judicial review and an order of injunction.
“This Court observes that the claimant understands that after a search at his premises by ACB, whose officers were in the company of United Kingdom Government officers, those United Kingdom Government officers are due to return to Malawi so that they can be shared with evidence that was obtained by ACB at his premises. This looks much like a future event if it is granted that the claimant has evidence of this being true that at some future time the Anti-Corruption Bureau wants to share information herein.
“Significantly, however, there is no evidence to show or suggest that the ACB has made any decision at all to share information from the search and seizure with the United Kingdom Government Officers at some future date as alleged by the claimant. The presence of United Kingdom Government officers during the search and seizure herein is also not proved. There is no evidence to support that allegation. It is not clear how Sattar confirmed that fact in the absence of any evidence tending to show such confirmation.
“Even if it were granted that United Kingdom Government officers accompanied ACB officers at the time of the search and seizure that in itself does not show that ACB intends or has decided at a future date to share information or evidence gathered during the search and seizure with the United Kingdom Government officers,” reads part of the ruling dated November 24, 2021
Justice Tembo said it could well be that the United Kingdom Government officers were on the ground on the search and seizure operation carried out by ACB due to some other form of cooperation and not necessarily with a view to be shared evidence or information at some future date, as alleged by the Sattar, without recourse to the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act or the Financial Crimes Act.
Last month, Britain’s anti-corruption authorities, alongside the ACB in Malawi arrested Malawian-born businessman Zuneth Sattar, alongside several associates in the United Kingdom and Malawi, in a joint operation that further saw several homes and offices, both in Britain and Malawi, raided.
The arrests started on Tuesday morning, following a three-year-long investigation by Britain’s National Crimes Agency (NCA) into Sattar’s suspected corrupt dealings with Malawi government.
The investigation focuses on the businessman’s dealings with both the Peter Mutharika administration and the current Lazarus Chakwera administration, with senior officials for both tenures facing possible legal peril, according to the Investigative Platform.
Under the UK anti-corruption laws, UK citizens and residents can be prosecuted for corruption abroad and the agency had previously frozen Sattar’s UK bank accounts which resulted in a court battle.