Batatawala: Details revealed of how tycoon duped the Malawi army, Police and Immigration

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Aslam Batawalala

Abdul Karim Batatawala – a Malawian of Indian origin who came to Malawi as a shopkeeper operating in Limbe but rose to a business kingpin is said to have scammed the Malawi army, Police and Immigration Department allegedly through fraudulent tactics that breached Malawi procurement and anti-corruption laws.

A nerve wracking investigation by Platform for Investigative Journalism published yesterday reveals that Batawalala duped the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) – and used the same alleged tactics to dupe the Malawi Police and Immigration Department.

According to the PIJ’s investigative report, Batatawala spent more than 10 years without delivering goods.

“In 2003, the Malawi Defence Force, through order No.191052, provided various Local Purchasing Orders (LPOs) to three Batatawala owned companies; Africa Commercial Agency, Kasco Enterprises, and SS Express Agencies. The total cost of the agreement was K9,457 466 604.63.

“On 20th September 2014, exactly 11 years after the LPOs were issued, senior military officials in the Malawi Defense Force were dumbfounded to hear that the goods–Olive Green Tentage and Olive Green Kit Bags–from Express Agencies and Kasco Enterprises had arrived at the military’s stores.

“Firstly, after inspecting the goods at the Zomba Ordnance Depot, the military observed that the goods did not fit specifications, which literally means the items would not serve the intended purpose”.

The investigation also established that the goods the tycoon delivered were mostly of substandard quality, forcing the Malawi army to reject Batatawala’s procurements.

However, PIJ’s report shows that using his connection and persons of political influence, Batatawala manipulated the army and other public departments to get payments even for rejected procurements.

The Malawi army is not the only public institution that fell victim to Batatawala.

Using the same controversial tactics considered to be in breach of both procurement and anti-corruption laws, the investigation by PIJ details how Batatawala also duped several public departments such as the Malawi Police and the Immigration Department. The two departments fall under the same Ministry of Homeland Security.

Malonda a mphaka

The investigation also discovered that the goods the tycoon delivered were not only delayed and “grossly overpriced from the beginning” but some of the procurements he demanded billions in payments for were not included in the initial tender documents and contracts.

For example, details the PIJ in its report, the Immigration Department purchased 500 lockers at a unit price of K2,950,560.00 amounting to K1,475,280.000.00 from Batatawala’s Africa Commercial Agency under Contract Number IM/01/85 dated 27th March 2010. PIJ established that not only was the contract overpriced, but there was also no open tender when Batawalala was awarded the contract.

“It was noted that the lockers were not included in the previous contract which was extended through the Office of Director of Public Procurement in a letter Ref. No ODPP/03/8 dated 4th March 2010. Although the lockers had some specifications which were required, the audit was of the view that 500 lockers supplied by Africa Commercial Agency at a unit price of K2,950,560.00 were obtained at an exorbitant price considering that the size of the lockers and the required specifications could not justify the price,” the publisher quotes an audit report into the procurements.

A darling protected by the Malawi Police, Immigration and State House?

Batatawala’s choice of legal representation has also raised eyebrows. His lawyers include former Justice Minister Henry Duncan Phoya and a former director of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, Alex Nampota.

It is further alleged that the business tycoon financed presidential bid of Malawi president Lazarus Chakwera with nearly half of a billion.

Immediately following his arrest for fraud and corruption, Batatawala sued President Lazarus Chakwera’s Chief Advisor on Rural Transformation and Development, Adamson Mkandawire, for failing to repay a loan of K378 million which is alleged to have been taken on behalf of President Chakwera.

Who is Batatawala: From rags to riches

Born Abdul Karim Batatawala, he is also known as Abdul Lido or Abdul Karim. He arrived in Malawi from India in 1992 with his two brothers. While in Malawi, he worked as a shop assistant at Okhai Electronics in Limbe, surviving on alms and second hand clothes given to him by well-wishers according to information shared by observers.

Three years later, he quit to set up his own cobweb of businesses.

Now a business tycoon, Batatawala has close business ties to Aslam Batawalala. Together, the pair appear to own various companies including Africa Commercial Agency, Kasco Enterprises, SS Express Agency, Lido Electrical Engineering Limited, HG suppliers, Zam Zam General Dealers, Gratorite General Dealers, Novateck Engineering Suppliers, Elegant Suppliers and Pamodzi, a real estate company.

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