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Malawi sacks minister amid ‘maizegate’ graft probe

Blantyre, Malawi | AFP | 

Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika on Wednesday fired the country’s agriculture minister who is alleged to have profited from a $35 million deal to import maize from Zambia.

George Chaponda, seen as a close ally and potential successor of Mutharika, was dismissed from his post a day after investigators raided his home where they reportedly found $223,000 (212,000 euros) in cash.

In a statement, Mutharika’s office said he had decided “to relieve George Chaponda of his responsibilities as minister of agriculture with immediate effect” without saying why.

His sacking follows pressure on the government in parliament over its controversial purchase of 100,000 tonnes of maize at high rates from neighbouring Zambia in July 2016, which has been branded “maizegate” by the local media.

Malawi said it was forced to import the vast quantities of food following a drought that has hit southern African agricultural production hard, with Chaponda saying that the measure was needed to “save Malawi from hunger”.

Last month, following weeks of pressure, the president ordered an inquiry into the deal brokered by the state-owned grain trader ADMARC.

That inquiry, as well as one led by parliament, have both now referred the case to the country’s anti-corruption bureau, according to local media reports.

The controversial maize deal has been widely criticised in the media, and last month the tax authorities shut down the offices of Malawi’s biggest media firm, the Times Group, with its editor-in-chief suggesting the move was linked to its coverage of the issue.

“It is lawlessness on the part of government. This is politically motivated,” George Kasakula told AFP at the time.

 

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