An Investigations Officer from the Anti-Corruption Commission has told the Lusaka Magistrates’ Court that in 2017, ACC received information alleging that Housing and Infrastructure Minister Ronald Chitotela had unexplained properties which he purportedly acquired through bribes from contractors.
However, when the officer was asked in cross examination if there was any charge against Chitotela before court relating to bribes, he responded in the negative.
Meanwhile, Road Development Agency (RDA) Director for Construction and Rehabilitation George Manyele testified that the agency was not aware of a contract between China Harbour Engineering and Brut Holdings Limited for consultancy services relating to the upgrading of the 122 KM of the Kawambwa-Mporokoso road.
But in cross examination, the witness said there was no rule at RDA that stopped a contractor from engaging its own consultant.
This is the matter in which Chitotela and three others are facing four counts of concealing and being in possession of properties suspected to be proceeds of crime.
It is alleged in one of the counts that Chitotela, Gregory Chibanga and Brut Holdings Limited, between July 3, 2016 and October 30, last year in Lusaka, concealed lot number 148 of farm 50A situated in Makeni disguised in the names of Diris Mukange, property reasonably suspected of being proceeds of crime.
It is further alleged that the trio between the same dates concealed part of subdivision A lot 22183/M situated in Ibex Hill, Lusaka, disguised in the name of Diris Mukange, property reasonably suspected to be proceeds of crime.
And when the matter came up for continued trial before magistrate David Simusamba, Tuesday, ACC investigations officer Gift Tembo told the court that on October 4, 2017, his supervisor tasked him to investigate a case involving Chitotela.
He testified that Chitotela was alleged to have unexplained properties which he acquired through bribes that he was receiving from contractors.
“I remember on October 4, 2017, I was on duty at the ACC when I was assigned to a case by my supervisor Mr Trevor Nyoni and also assigned to the same case was my colleague Mr Christopher Siwakwi, an investigations officer. Details of the allegations in the matter where that honourable Ronald Chitotela was alleged to have unexplained properties which he had acquired through bribes that he was receiving from contractors,” Tembo said.
The officer said he also received intelligence information that Chitotela had bought Lot 148 of farm 50A in Makeni and subdivision A lot 22183/M in Ibex Hill.
“I recall, I further received intelligence information that honourable Chitotela had purchased two properties namely Lot 148 of farm 50A situated in Makeni Lusaka and subdivision A lot 22183/M situated in Ibex Hill, Lusaka,” he said.
Tembo told the court that intelligence information further indicated that the said properties were acquired by Chitotela from a transfer originating from the dollar account of China Harbour Engineering Limited held at Bank of China.
“The intelligence information your honour further indicated that the said properties were acquired by honourable Chitotela from a transfer originating from the dollar account of China Harbour Engineering Limited held at Bank of China,” Tembo said.
“I proceeded to serve warrants on Bank of China in order to have access to information relating to China Harbour’s account number 1002004000032925. I was given a bank statement by the Bank of China which I inspected and confirmed transfer of an amount of US$300,000 from the said account of China Harbour to account number 626146726, in the name of Andrew and Partners.”
He said investigations revealed that the purpose of transferring US$300,000 was for payment of legal services rendered to China Habour by Andrew and Partners relating to the upgrading of the 122 KM of the Kawambwa-Mporokoso road.
“I proceeded to inspect the receiving account for Andrew and Partners and I discovered that an amount of US$300,000 was received in the account of Andrew and Partners on July 27, 2016, which was the same day the money had been sent from the account of China Harbour Engineering Limited. During my search at Bank of China, I requested for documents supporting the said transfer and I was given a payment transfer slip which showed that the said payment was authorised by Mr Peng Peng, whom I later came to know as a Chinese national and a director in China Harbour Engineering Company Limited,” he said.
“The said slip indicated the purpose for the transfer of funds as legal service payments. Attached to the said slip was a legal services contract between Andrew and Partners and China Harbour Engineering Limited. The funds were transferred as payment from China Harbour to Andrew and Partners for legal services that Andrew and Partners was providing relating to upgrading of the 122 Kilometers of the Kawambwa-Mporokoso road in Luapula and Northern provinces.”
Tembo said he also received a photocopy of a letter from an intelligence source.
He said the letter was from the managing director of Brut Holdings Limited addressed to Andrew and Partners where Brut Holdings were requesting the law firm to act for them in the transactions regarding the purchase of two properties.
“In this document, are instructions from the managing director of Brut Holdings Limited Mr Gregory Chibanga, to Andrew and Partners legal practitioners. Mr Chibanga was informing Andrew and Partners that Brut Holding Limited intended to purchase two properties namely subdivision A lot 22183/M from honourable Austin Liato and lot number 148 of farm 50A from Mrs Mary Lubinga. In the letter, Brut Holdings were requesting Andrew and Partners to act for them in the said transactions,” he said.
Tembo said the said letter further revealed that Brut Holdings was also expecting to be paid an advance payment of US$300,000 for the consultancy services it offered to China Habour.
“The letter further stated that, seen as Brut Holdings limited had contracted various debts, they wanted the properties to be in the names of Diris Mukange who happened to be the niece to Mr Gregory Chibanga. The letter further stated, Mr Chibanga was requesting that Andrew and Partners receive money on behalf of Brut Holdings from China Harbour Engineering with whom Brut Holdings had done a feasibility consultancy on the upgrading of the Kawambwa-Mporokoso road at the total cost US$1,000,000. Mr Chibanga further indicated in the letter that Brut Holdings were expecting to be paid an advance payment of US$300,000.”
Tembo said he was puzzled by the fact that the said US$300,000 had two unrelated purposes namely; legal service payment relating to Andrew and Partners and feasibility consultancy relating to Brut Holdings.
“I was further puzzled by the fact that the same amount of money had two unrelated purposes namely; legal service payment on one hand relating to Andrew and Partners and feasibility consultancy on the other hand relating to Brut Holdings,” he said.
The officer said he conducted further investigations and confirmed that subdivision A lot 22183/M was sold by Austin Liato to Diris Mukange at the price of K1,800,000.
He told the court that he had cause to suspect that the funds in question where proceeds of crimes.
“Given my findings that colossal sums of money were used to purchase property, which funds were being claimed by two parties namely Andrew and Partners and Brut Holdings Limited… I had cause to reasonably suspect that the funds in question were proceeds of crime,” he said.
In cross examination, Chitotela’s lawyer Jonas Zimba asked Tembo if there was any case relating to bribes against his client before court, to which the witness responded in the negative.
Further asked, “from the witnesses that you have brought to court, have you brought any contractor that has come to tell this court that he gave a bribe to my client”, the witness also responded in the negative.
Meanwhile, RDA Director for Construction and Rehabilitation George Manyele testified that he was approached by officers from ACC in December 2018 who were inquiring on a project regarding the upgrading of 122 kilometers of Kawambwa-Mporokoso road.
He said the officers wanted information relating to RDA’s procedures in terms of companies they engaged from the beginning of the contract up to the completion of a project.
“I assisted ACC by providing the requested information,” Tembo said.
He explained that RDA had engaged three companies namely; Bicon Zambia Limited, China Harbour Engineering and Andosa Consultancy.
“RDA engaged Bicon Zambia Limited as a consultant to carry out techno, economic, feasibility studies, detailed engineering design and preparation of tender documents for the upgrading of the 122 kilometers Kawambwa-Mporokoso road in 2013. Later on in 2016, RDA engaged China Harbour Engineering to carry out the upgrading of 122 kilometer Kawambwa-Mporokoso road as a works contractor. Later, RDA engaged Andosa Consultancy Engineers as a design review and supervision consultancy,” Tembo said.
He said the agency was not aware of a contract between China Harbour Engineering and Brut Holdings Limited for consultancy services relating to the upgrading of the said Kawambwa-Mporokoso road.
“While I was at the offices of ACC for a pre-trial, I was shown a document for yet another contract between China Harbour Engineering and another firm, other than the firms that I have mentioned. This is the document that I was shown during the pre trial (reading from a document) of consultancy services agreement for upgrading of 122 kilometers of Kawambwa-Mporokoso road between China Harbour and BRUT Holdings limited,” he said.
“The contract which RDA is aware of, regards to the contracts that I talked earlier between RDA and Bicon Zambia, China Harbour and Andosa. As RDA we are not aware of this contract.”
In cross examination, the witness however said there was no rule at RDA that stopped a contractor from engaging its own consultant.
He also said China Harbour had the liberty to engage any consultancy of its choice in relation to its business.
Asked if RDA penalised contractors for engaging their own consultants, the witness said no.
Trial continues on May 28 and 29.