Blantyre, Malawi - The first two out of the 70 defendants appeared in court in the Malawi capital, Lilongwe, Wednesday, signalling the beginning of what has been dubbed 'cashgate' cases over the biggest corruption scandal in Malawian history. Civil servants, politicians and businessmen stand accused of pilfering millions of dollars from a government finance management system leading to the freezing of US$ 150 million in foreign aid.
Malawi's Director of Public Prosecutions, Bruno Kalemba, told PANA because of the unprecedented number of defendants, government has dedicated special courts for the 'Cashgate' cases.
Additional judges will also be moved from the commercial capital, Blantyre, and the northern city of Mzuzu for the trials.
'These are unprecedented cases,' he said.
According to Finance Minister, Maxwell Mkwezalamba, up to US$ 100 million is suspected to have been stolen altogether, but an audit led by British forensic experts has so far verified that US$ 20 million was stolen.
Malawi's donors have withheld US$ 150 million pending further investigation into the scandal. Up to 40% of Malawi's annual budget is donor-funded.
The scandal was unravelled in September last year after the attempted assassination of the finance ministry's then Budget Director Paul Mphwiyo. Just days before, a junior civil servant was allegedly found with bales of cash totalling more than US$ 300,000 in the boot of his car.
More cash was confiscated from some civil servants' homes and car boots.
Caroline Savala and Leonard Kalonga, both civil servants, were the first to appear in court to answer charges of theft and money laundering. They deny the charges.
With elections scheduled for 20 May, the 'Cashgate' will be an election issue and the outcome of the 'Cashgate' cases will make or break President Banda's presidency.