The High Court of Malawi – Financial Crimes Division has rejected an application by three firms belonging to embattled businessman Zuneth Sattar for a judicial review into a demand by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to furnish it with documents related to an ongoing investigation.
This is the first ruling by the newly established Financial Crimes Division.
The ACB Director General Martha Chizuma on November 29, 2022 issued notices to produce or furnish documents to Sattar’s companies — Xelite Strips Limited, Orion Investments Limited and Ocean Industries Limited — under the Corrupt Practices Act.
The notices required the companies to provide or furnish the said documents within three working days.
But, according to the ruling we have seen, the three firms faulted the ACB’s decision requiring them to produce or furnish documents after the bureau had already executed a warrant of search and seizure on them more than a year earlier in October 2021.
Represented by Chancy Gondwe, the three firms further argued that the decision was procedurally unfair and unreasonable, and that the notices to produce documents after more than a year since the investigations commenced were made in bad faith considering that the ACB had failed to charge Sattar with any criminal offence during that period.
Gondwe contended that the ACB was merely seeking further documents from them because they still want to be seen to be pursuing investigations into the alleged crimes by Sattar when in fact they have nothing with which to charge him.
However, ACB lawyer Benjamin Mandala explained that investigations into the matter are complex as they concern over 84 public officials and also considering the international angle as some of the suspects are outside the country.
Hence, considering the scale of the investigation, he argued that it was not unreasonable to expect that the investigations would last as long as they have done.
In his ruling, Justice Redson Kapindu rebuked Gondwe for failing to exhibit the notices.
“The Court proceeded to pause and wonder why the Claimants would have decided to pursue such an unmeritorious and legally unworthy line of argument. The Court, in this respect, is inclined to believe that there was a strategic nexus between this line of argument and the Claimant’s failure to exhibit copies of the impugned Notices herein.
“It appears to have been a calculated attempt to suppress the material fact that the Notices, if exhibited, would clearly show that the Defendant was very clear and specific about the properties concerned and the specific documents or information that was being sought from the Claimants. The Claimants were, as it were, taking their chances with the Court,” he said
On the issue that the State is taking long to prosecute Sattar, Justice Kapindu said he was surprised and curious that the concerned companies, who are separate legal personalities in their own right, seek to speak on behalf of, and to assert and vindicate the rights of Sattar, who was not before the Court.
“This Court opines that if Mr. Sattar is of the view that he has good grounds upon which to complain to and argue before the Court that he should no longer be investigated by ACB, for instance based on the ground that the State has taken too long to charge him with any crime, he surely will be able to speak for himself in that regard,” he said.
He added: “No issues fit for further investigation at a full hearing of judicial review have been raised. The application for permission to apply for judicial review, therefore, fails and it is dismissed with costs.”
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