Police in Malawi arrested the head of the country's Anti-Corruption Bureau on Tuesday over an audio recording leaked in January.
In the leaked audio, the director-general of the ACB, Martha Chizuma, was heard talking with an unknown person about how some churches, judges, lawyers and government officials were trying to block her effort to handle corruption cases involving British-based businessman, Zuneth Sattar.
During the state of the nation address on January 24, President Lazarus Chakwera described Chizuma's action as unfortunate but said he would not dismiss her. However, on Tuesday, Chizuma was arrested. Her lawyer, Martha Kaukonde, told VOA she was not surprised by the arrest because there were several attempts to get Chizuma detained.
"There was a case that was commenced in Lilongwe that was thrown out by the court," Kaukonde said. "And another case came up with Blantyre [court]; it was thrown out. A third one resurfaced in Mzuzu [court] and we proceed to apply for review in the high court in Lilongwe. And the high court agreed with us that the process being done was supposed to be stopped because the decision was already made in Lilongwe and Blantyre, so it was an abuse of court process."
Kaukonde said Chizuma has since been charged and is now out on police bail.
"They say [the charge is] making use of speech capable of prejudicing a person against a party to judicial proceedings, contrary to Section 113 (1) (d) of the Penal Code. So essentially it is to do with leaked audio in January this year," Kaukonde said.
Police said in a statement Tuesday that the arrest follows a complaint from the director for public prosecutions, Steven Kayuni. Peter Kalaya, spokesperson for Malawi's police, said: "Dr Kayuni alleged in his statement that he was injured by the allegations that were made by the director general in a leaked audio clip in January this year. Malawians should know that High court judge, Anabel Mtalimanja, ruled in September this year that any individual or party that felt aggrieved by contents of that leaked audio was at a liberty to lodge a complaint with us, the police."
The arrest of Chizuma comes a few days after the Anti-Corruption Bureau arrested Malawi's vice president Saulos Chilima. Chilima is accusing of receiving payments amounting to $280,000 and other items from British businessman Zuneth Sattar in return for awarding Malawian government contracts.
On its official Facebook account, the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party said the arrest of Chizuma was an attempt by government authorities to block her plans to summon four government officials this week, including two cabinet ministers, over corruption-related issues. Moses Mkandawire, chairperson for the National Anti-Corruption Alliance, said the arrest of Chizuma has a negative impact on the fight against corruption.
"We are frustrated, we are disappointed given the fact that there are a number of high-profile cases that have been put on the list like the Sattar case, the NOCMA fuel case and many other cases. And therefore, arresting Martha [Chizuma] at this critical juncture is very frustrating," he said.
The charge which Chizuma was supposed to answer to has been dropped. Justice minister Titus Mvalo told parliament Tuesday afternoon that the government has suspended the director for public prosecutions pending investigation into the arrest of Chizuma.