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Wednesday, 27 December, 2000, 19:19 GMT
Malawi corruption scandal hits top name

By Raphael Tenthani in Blantyre

The former transport minister and a senior official of the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF), Brown Mpinganjira, has been arrested in connection with high fraud and corruption in government.

[Mr Mpinganjira] was in high spirits despite the inconvenience of having to spend a night in jail because he knows this is a political game

Mr Mpinganjira's lawyer
Police spokesman Oliver Soko told BBC News Online that Mr Mpinganjira was arrested and charged with corrupt practices and accepting money in bribes.

"While Mr Mpinganjira was minister of education, he facilitated the award of contracts to ghost contractors thereby making government lose more than 125 million Malawi kwacha ($2m) in payments for non-existent jobs," he said.

There was drama in Blantyre on Wednesday morning when Mr Mpinganjira handed himself in at the Southern Region Police Headquarters after learning that police were hunting for him.

SInce Tuesday, police had been erecting surprise roadblocks on roads leading to his home district of Mulanje and the lakeshore resort district of Mangochi where the former minister was believed to be on holiday.

Strong support

Mr Mpinganjira, dressed casually, was accompanied to the police by a horde of supporters who chanted songs praising him as the next state president of the Republic of Malawi.

Southern Region Police headquarters chief Milward Chikwamba tried to chase the rowdy supporters outside the police premises but the defiant supporters dared them to order his officers to shoot them.

They said they were ready to spill blood for their leader.

After six hours of interrogation by fiscal police officers, Mr Mpinganjira's lawyer Ralph Kasambara told journalists his client had been denied bail but would apply again in the morning.

"He was in high spirits despite the inconvenience of having to spend a night in jail because he knows this is a political game," said Mr Kasambara, adding that the marathon interrogation had made him miss lunch.

He said the fraud and corruption report made by the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament did not say Mr Mpinganjira was directly implicated in the fraud, making his arrest a political move.

Ruling party cracks

The arrest of Mr Mpinganjira has exposed cracks in the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF).

Soon after he was taken to a prison cell at high speed, a senior UDF MP Peter Chupa told about 200 supporters who braved the pouring rains that President Bakili Muluzi had ordered the arrest because he fears Mr Mpinganjira politically.

"History was repeating itself here because, when [former President Hastings] Kamuzu Banda was nearing his end he was ordering arrests of opponents anyhow," he said.

Mr Chupa, who was sacked together with Mr Mpinganjira and former education minister Cassim Chilumpha in connection with the same fraud, said thousands of Mr Mpinganjira's supporters will camp outside the court to check any foul play his enemies in the ruling party can arrange.

Mr Mpinganjira's arrest comes only days after he publicly warned that he was going to name the biggest thief in Malawi.

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01 Nov 00 | Africa
Malawi sells ministers' Mercedes
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