A News Diggers! investigation into the details of the abuse of office involving Infrastructure Development Minister Ronald Chitotela, has revealed that the Pambashe PF member of parliament is linked to millions of suspicious financial transactions, which have been left out on the charge sheet slapped on him.
The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) arrested Chitotela, Tuesday, on two counts of concealing property believed to be proceeds of crime. It is alleged that Chitotela, 47, a former police officer, concealed a house and residential plot in Lusaka’s Makeni and Ibex Hill areas respectively – both concealed under a third party named Diris Mukange.
But ACC officers close to the investigation have told News Diggers! that the charges slapped on the minister were only a tip of the iceberg, adding that the investigation also covered government tenders awarded to his companies, as well as Chinese firms which remitted kickbacks to him through a third party.
According to the records obtained, the ACC found out that the property in Ibex Hill was acquired from former labour minister in the MMD government Austin Liato, a corruption convict turned PF official, who was sentenced to two years imprisonment for burying cash (proceeds of crime) underground at his farm amounting to K2.1 billion (K2.1 million rebased currency).
Chitotela’s concealed property in Makeni, also under the name Diris Mukange, was previously owned by Mary Kateya Lubinga, a government employee under the Ministry of Local Government, while the supposed buyer, Mukange is a Kitwe resident who has links with the minister’s wife Lillian.
Among other companies, the arrested minister owns RKC Tours and Guide Car Hire Limited, named after his full names Ronald Kaoma Chitotela. His suspicious dealings are linked to Veil Construction Company, China Henan, China Harbour, AVIC International, Brut Engineering as well as Andrew and Partners law firm. Others include a UK firm called Eastgate and the National Housing Authority NHC
Findings show that Chitotela received multiple cash deposits in his accounts from various business associates, amounting to millions of kwacha accumulatively, while other payments were made to third parties who bought properties on his behalf, using proxies.
Among the transactions under probe, Veil Construction paid the Minister’s company, RKC Tours and Guide Car Hire, an unexplained half a million kwacha. ACC investigators say they suspect Veil Construction to be a shell company that was used to get kickbacks from Chinese companies through purported subcontracts. It was discovered that the operating address for Veil Construction was pointing to the same office premises as the minister’s company, RKC, while in another correspondence, it was purporting to be sharing office space with China Harbour.
Records at PACRA obtained by News Diggers! showed that the company, Veil Construction, which was making payments to the minister’s RKC was incorporated around March 2017, and one of its shareholders, a Chinese national called Peng Claude Peng was also a shareholder of another Chinese company called China Harbour, which was traced back to Chitotela.
The only known company employee for Veil construction was named Gregory Mubanga, while the purported shareholders, other than Peng Peng, were some Kawambwa based teachers going by the names Kennedy Mwape and Bestone Musonda. However, the company was reported to receive in excess of US$2 million from Chinese companies.
ACC sources say, in 2017, Veil Construction received numerous amounts of unexplained payments from AVIC International, another Chinese company that has been sweeping government contracts from RDA in the past decade. Records show that while government breached procedure in awarding road construction tenders to China Harbour, both Chinese companies remitted proceeds to the minister’s shell company, with some payments going straight into the minister’s account – deposited by individuals.
In 2016, The Road Development Agency, which falls under Chitotela, single sourced China Harbour to upgrade the 122 kilometre Kawambwa-Mporokoso Road in Luapula and Northern Provinces, at a cost of about US$148 million. With Peng Peng being a shareholder of both China Harbour and Veil Construction companies, the tender-awarded firm would then facilitate the transfer of suspected kickbacks into the minister’s shell company, which would later be withdrawn by various individuals. Investigators say Veil Construction, having no substantial number of employees, paid no salaries or statutory taxes to ZRA and NAPSA.
The investigation further revealed that Peng Peng was also linked to a lawyer called Andrew Kombe Kampamba, among other politicians and State House officials. China Harbour is reported to have, on occasions, transferred over US$300,000 to Kampamba’s law firm, Andrew and Partners; which then purchased the two properties in Makeni and Ibex Hill for the minister – believed to be further gratification for the contract awarded to the Chinese company. The two properties, though not in the minister’s name, are what led to the minister’s arrest on Tuesday.
In other transaction, AVIC paid about K1 million to Andrew and Partners, which when queried, the law firm said they were holding on behalf of Veil Construction to buy construction vehicles from a UK company called Eastgate. Records showed that money was sent from the law firm to UK, but the construction vehicles were not received, as Veil Construction still does not have any registered vehicles.
In a related transaction, Andrew and Partners bought four houses from the National Housing Authority SOS area in Lusaka, in the name of Bestone Musonda, the Kawambwa based teacher who is a purported shareholder in Veil Construction.
Meanwhile, among the beneficiaries of the money deposited into Veil Construction Accounts is Chitotela’s friend and PF member of parliament for Chimbamilonga Hastings Mwansa, who is reported to have collected about K450,000 in total, while another individual called Suman Phiri was a regular agent for cash transactions on the company’s accounts – withdrawing over K8 million within the year. RCK Tours and Guide Car Hire also got payments from Veil Construction, which were then withdrawn from RKC by Chitotela himself.
Another company linked to Chitotela called Brut Engineering, which was registered in 2008, is said to have started recording massive profits after the arrested minister bounced back in government around 2015, with major cash deposits coming from government ministries where Chitotela could be traced.
Meanwhile, with Chitotela at the helm as Minister of Infrastructure Development, the ministry paid his RKC company amounts close to K200,000, for services purported to have been rendered with no existing contracts. The minister’s car hire company is reported to have cars in excess of 30, owned directly and indirectly.
Records at RTSA show that before 2012, the minister did not have vehicles registered under his name, but as at 2018, he had in excess of 10 luxurious cars valued at over K2 million, with several others not registered in his name. Investigators say there were no records showing Chitotela’s bank transactions regarding the purchase of the minister’s numerous cars.
Some of the cars under investigations include a Lexus BAF 1696, a Toyota Land Cruiser BAD 2812 which ACC suspects was given to him by the owner of Ndozo Lodge, three Hino Rangers registration numbers BAD 6731, BAD 3125, BAD 5451, Nissan Navara ADC 2059, Toyota Rav 4 ALT 8355, Mitsubishi Rosa, ABX 3507, Mitsubishi Fighter BAF 1695, Totoya Granvia BAC 8931, Toyota Camry ALV 6752 and Toyota Noah BAC 4816 among others.
In another scandal, Chitotela allegedly signed a contract for the sale of maize to Agriculture Minister Michael Katambo valued at over K4.5 million, which quantity of maize the investigators discovered that the minister had no capacity to produce. Chitotela sold the maize to his Agriculture counterpart through a company called Manyumbi Farm Enterprise, which money the arrested minister used to buy some property from a cement manufacturing company.
In December 2013, late president Michael Sata fired Chitotela from his position as deputy minister of labour, on grounds that he was suspected to be involved in corruption and the ACC was investigating him.
After President Edgar Lungu succeeded Sata in 2015, he re-appointed Chitotela as deputy minister for sports and youth development before elevating him to a full Cabinet position of Works and Supply Minister. He was later moved to the newly created Ministry of Infrastructure Development, where the corruption scandals around him escalated before the ACC finally arrested him.