Prominent Malawi banker arrested for suspected attempted bribery in rigged-poll case

BLANTYRE (Reuters) - A prominent Malawi banker has been arrested in connection with a suspected attempt to bribe a panel of five judges presiding over the country’s presidential election vote-rigging case, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) said on Wednesday.

Malawi opposition parties are challenging the state electoral commission’s May 27 declaration of President Peter Mutharika as the victor despite complaints of irregularities including results sheets with sections blotted out or altered with correction fluid.

The small, landlocked country has since been plagued by protests and demands for Mutharika to resign.

On Dec. 8, the ACB received a complaint alleging that some people were attempting to bribe the five judges of the Constitutional Court. It arrested Thomson Mpinganjira on Wednesday in connection with the allegations, it said in a statement.

“Dr Mpinganjira will be taken to court after the ACB has recorded a statement from him,” said ACB spokesperson Egrita Ndala.

Mpinganjira spent the afternoon at the ACB offices in Blantyre. Hundreds of people gathered and chanted “Thief! Thief!” as he was being whisked away by tight security to a police station.

Mpinganjira, an accountant, is the former founding chief executive of the Malawi Stock Exchange (MSE). He left to open private First Discount House (FDH) which later evolved into a bank and has a nationwide branch network.

He is also a board chairman of state-run power utility Escom.

Many people in Malawi have said he is connected to the ruling party, but he has always denied links.

His lawyer Patrice Nkhono told Reuters by telephone that his client has no comment.

The Constitution Court is expected to announce its ruling between Jan. 27 and Feb. 3, the High Court’s Registrar Agnes Patemba was quoted as saying by Zodiak Radio on Wednesday.

Reporting by Frank Phiri; editing by Nick Macfie