Malawi’s Former Justice Minister Faces Murder Charges in Court

Former Malawian Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow to face charges of attempting to murder a former budget director who was investigating corruption among government officials.

The shooting of former budget director Paul Mphwiyo in September sparked demands for a probe into allegations that as much as 30 percent of state funds was being embezzled in what local media dubbed “cashgate.” President Joyce Banda fired her cabinet the next month, while donors, which provide 40 percent of the budget, froze as much as $120 million in aid.

Kasambara was arrested last month on a separate charge of money laundering and was released on bail. He denies both charges.

“I feel this case holds the key to the truth behind what really happened for the country to lose such a huge sum of money,” Billy Banda, executive director of the Blantyre-based rights group, Malawi Watch, said today in an interview. “The former justice minister has named President Joyce Banda as his key witness. We want to know how involved the president was in this cashgate saga.”

Banda, 63, has denied involvement in graft and vowed to press ahead with investigations into corruption even if it means she loses elections scheduled for this year. The probes into as many as 69 civil servants, businessmen and politicians have led to departures of members of Banda’s People’s Party to the opposition, which includes Peter Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party, the United Democratic Front and the Malawi Congress Party.

Female President

Banda became Africa’s second female president when she succeeded Bingu wa Mutharika, Peter’s brother, who died in office in April 2012. She devalued the kwacha and raised fuel prices a month after taking office, unlocking aid from donors such as the U.K. and the International Monetary Fund and sparking nationwide protests over rising prices.

About half of Malawi’s 15 million people live on less than $1 a day, according to the IMF. The country is Africa’s top exporter of burley tobacco, a low-grade variety of the crop. Limbe Leaf Tobacco Co., a unit of U.S.-based Universal Corp., Alliance One International Inc. and Japan Tobacco Inc. are among buyers in the nation. The economy was estimated at $4.27 billion in 2012 by the World Bank.

Malawi ranked 91st out of 175 countries on Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, down from 37th, the year before.

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