Malawi Journalist in Hiding After Exposing Government Corruption

Blantyre, Malawi — Investigative journalist Gregory Gondwe, who exposed the Malawian government’s planned purchase of 32 armored vehicles from a company implicated in corruption, is in hiding, fearing arrest by the military.

In a story published Monday, Gregory Gondwe, who works with Platform for Investigative Journalism, quoted unnamed military officials saying the Malawi Defense Force paid a firm associated with businessman Zuneth Sattar millions of dollars for military equipment.

Sattar is facing allegations of corruption.

The story said the transaction involved a $4.98 million payment, part of a nearly $20 million deal for the procurement of 32 armored personnel carriers for the Malawi Defense Force.

Using leaked documents from the Malawi Defense Force, or MDF, Gondwe reported that the deal defeats the Malawi government’s commitment to combating corruption.

Sattar, who is based in the United Kingdom, is under scrutiny in Malawi for allegedly bribing Malawi Vice President Saulos Chilima in return for government contracts.

The Anti-Corruption Bureau arrested Chilima in 2022, leading Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera to suspend the powers of the vice president.

Malawi’s government has said it has canceled all business connected to Sattar.

Gondwe told VOA from an undisclosed location Friday that he has gone into hiding following a tip from military sources about plans to arrest him.

“The MDF’s displeasure over these leaks is precisely why I should protect my source at all costs, by ensuring that I am not called to be questioned or arrested,” he said.

This is the second time in three years Gondwe has faced arrest for publishing a story about the government’s dealings with Sattar.

In 2022, Malawi police arrested Gondwe and confiscated his phone and laptop for publishing leaked documents exposing another secret government deal with Sattar.

Gondwe refused police demands to disclose his sources and later was unconditionally released after press freedom groups and the U.S. and British embassies in Malawi expressed concern over his arrest.

The Media Institute for Southern Africa in Malawi, or MISA-Malawi, said in a statement Thursday that the threats against Gondwe have a chilling effect on journalists.

A delegation from about 15 civil society organizations in Malawi held a closed-door meeting Thursday with Minister of Defense Harry Mkandawire at which they expressed concern about alleged intimidation of whistleblowers such as Gondwe.

Benedicto Kondowe, chairperson for the National Advocacy Platform, told reporters that the minister clarified two issues.

“One being a confirmation that indeed a payment to the tune of $5 million plus was initiated [to Sattar’s company], but that payment has not been finalized,” Kondowe said. “As it stands now, that payment remains with the Reserve Bank of Malawi.”

The other clarification, Kondowe said, was that the payment stems from a 2020 contract, payment for which had been delayed following investigations into Sattar.

Mkandawire and Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda told local media that there are no plans to arrest Gondwe over his story.

But Gondwe said he cannot trust them, citing the 2022 arrest of Anti-Corruption Bureau Director-General Martha Chizuma despite assurances from Malawi’s president not to punish her over a leaked audio scandal in which she accused the government of receiving kickbacks from Sattar.

“Given this precedent, it is challenging to take at face value the current assurances of the minister of defense and other government authorities,” Gondwe said. “My experience and observation lead me to approach their statements with caution and to continue prioritizing my safety.”

Gondwe is working with his lawyers and other organizations to map out his next move.

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