Most Malawians may never have heard about Steve Likhunya Phiri but he is the person who ignited the public theft of resources whose consequences have hit every citizen now.
According to Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Mary Kachale, Phiri served as a civil servant and he used his wits to break through the Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS), a move that saw civil servants in various ministries and departments plunder money for fun.
It has emerged that Phiri, an Information Technology (IT) expert at the government offices, convinced others on the IFMIS functionality before he bypassed its strength to the good of the other workers who stole billions of Kwacha under the scandal which has led to donors cutting aid to Malawi.
It is, however, not known as to how much money Phiri might have also stolen but he is answering charges related to the masterminding of the whole scandal.
“For IFMIS to be breached it needed people with advanced background in IT or computers and IFMIS knowledge and our allegation is that Phiri was that background person who assisted in the breach and manipulation.”
“We are ready with witnesses, who will bring substantial evidence. He played an umbrella role-higher up there. There are things that the people [who plundered] could not have done without his expertise. That is why he is being joined to the case,” Kachale is told a local paper this week.
Media reports suggest that the suspect will be together with over ten others including former budget director Paul Mphwiyo, who are answering multiple counts of defrauding government of K2.4 billion in 2013. The charges include holding property belonging to government, fraud, conspiracy to defraud government, theft, money laundering and abuse of public office. Mphwiyo was nabbed together with three accused persons: Roosevelt Ndovi, Auzius Kazombo Mwale and Clemence Madzi.
The list of the other accused persons include contractors and some civil servants who signed for the cheques such as former Accountant General David Kandoje, who allegedly signed a total of eight cheques, Ndovi and Madzi who allegedly signed 24 cheques, as well as Kazombo Mwale who allegedly signed 16 cheques.
In the application, Kachale explained to the court that investigating officers’ accounts as well as caution statements of suspects, Samuel Mzanda and Michael Mpatsa, show that the IT expert had a hand in the breach of IFMIS.
Phiri’s lawyer Shadreck Mhango told the court that his client was incarcerated and said he needed to first discuss with him on the application by the state before raising objections.
But Judge Esmie Chombo said that in the interest of justice as well as essence of time, Mhango should be given one hour to confer with his client, who at the time was said to be on his way to the court.
The case which also involves Stafford Mpoola, Maxwell Namata, George Banda, Patrick Chilalika, Sympathy Chisale, Fatch Chungano, Lumumba Karim, Stanley Mtambo, Cecilia Mervis Ng’ambi, Gerald Magaleta Phiri and Ndaona Satema has since been adjourned to February 24, 2016. Over 70 people have been arrested for taking part in the scandal.
So far, Esnart Ndovi, Osward Lutepo, Treza Senzani, Maxwell Namata, Wyson Zinyemba Soko, Victor Sithole and Luke Kasamba are all in jail on miscellaneous cases involving the plunder of public resources which forced donors to withhold aid to Malawi.