(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Ex-minister arrested over sale of state grain


In an ongoing crackdown on corruption, Friday Jumbe, Malawi's former finance minister, was arrested on Wednesday in connection with the sale of maize from the country's strategic grain reserves during widespread food shortages.

Jumbe was arrested at Blantyre's Chileka airport, where he was due to board a flight to South Africa. He has become the fifth senior member of the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) to be arrested in new President Bingu wa Mutharika's anti-corruption crusade.

Both the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the police confirmed the arrest. Authorities said Jumbe, who is currently a member of parliament, was arrested in connection with the alleged mismanagement of state grain marketer ADMARC, during his tenure as general manager.

Almost 160,000 mt of grain were sold from the strategic grain reserves in August 2000, of which 60,000 mt were exported to Kenya, at a time when it was becoming clear that Malawi would suffer serious food shortages due to drought.

In 2001/02 more than 3 million Malawians needed food aid. Although observers blamed the food crisis on two years of severe drought, the government also came under fire for selling off most of its emergency grain stock.

In August a presidential commission of inquiry, established by former president Bakili Muluzi, presented its report to Mutharika.

The commission's brief was to "inquire into the management and or the alleged mismanagement of the Strategic Grain Reserves (SGRs) in the 1999/2000 season, and the construction of [Jumbe's] Superior Hotel in Blantyre".

It is alleged that Jumbe profited illegally from the sale of the reserve grain and used these funds to build a hotel. Jumbe has denied these charges. "I am innocent and my conscience is clear," he said.

During the inquiry Jumbe claimed that he built the hotel using bank loans. However, the commission said it could not find evidence to back his claim and the case was handed over to the DPP.

Authorities would not confirm what charges Jumbe would face when he appeared in court.

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