GOVERNANCE activist Rueben Lifuka says those involved in the AZADI, Zamworth and Ministry of Infrastructure building scandal must be prosecuted. The Transparency International vice-chairperson was commenting on a News Diggers investigation which revealed irregularities in the US$5.35 million purchase agreement between government and ZAMWORTH construction company, for an office building.
LIFUKA: “The Auditor General’s report already provides sufficient grounds for all those who were involved in the sham deal to be investigated and where necessary to be prosecuted for their acts of commission. The value of the property acquired remains questionable and there is justified cause to conclude that the Zambian government, through the Ministry of Infrastructure at the time, knowingly and willingly, paid an exorbitant amount for the property. On 18th November 2016, the Government Valuation Department recommended a market value of K19,327,000 (US$1,958,156.03 @ K9.87 per dollar), but the Ministry of Infrastructure, in circumstances that have not been explained, failed to adhere to the recommendation. This raises the question, where did the valuation of US$5.3 million come from? Another issue of contention which needs clear explanation from those who were in power is the payment of Property Transfer Tax. The Zambian government paid K5,350,000 in property transfer tax as a purchaser of the property and not Zamworth Ltd the vendor, contrary to the provision of the Property Transfer Tax Act. This therefore means that the Zambian government paid K61,565,386 which was the equivalent of US$5.3 million and additionally paid K5,350,000 as property transfer tax which brings the total for that property to K66,915,386. The conduct of the former Attorney General should be scrutinised.”
There are many scandals shrouded in this developing story. At this stage, many of our people may not understand the gravity of the illegalities that went down, facilitated by individuals who took oath to uphold the laws of this country and to protect public resources. There were many overpriced contracts that the government under the Patriotic Front signed with private companies, most of which were conduits for syphoning public resources. But what is causing dust in this particular scandal is the fact that the private company that sold the government a building at an overpriced price is demanding a further payment of US$25 million in interest, on grounds that the government delayed to settle the principal amount.
But that is just one of the many questionable issues in this scandalous transaction. Apart from all the points that Mr Lifuka raises, there is something else that caught our attention, and this relates to the mansion built by the man who was in charge of this ministry at the time this deal was being signed. Our investigation revealed that this Zamworth construction company, which is not registered at the National Council for Construction, is a sister company to AZADI Investment, the company that built a house for former Housing minister Ronald Chitotela worth K9.8 million.
A couple of weeks ago when the Anti-Corruption Commission seized the house and arrested Mr Chitotela, we noticed his claim that the house was built for him by a company called AZADI Investment on credit. A quick search of this company took us to their website where we found a claim that they built the Ministry office building. We published a story to this effect because we found it strange that the company that built the minister a house without paying the full cost also claimed to have been behind the construction of a building that now belongs to the government.
As usual, the PF chief spin doctor Mr Emmanuel Mwamba took to Facebook to discredit our news as a “punka story”. Mr Mwamba even went to the extent of calling us and telling us to stop publishing lies. According to him, there was no connection between the company that built the former minister’s house and the government. Mr Mwamba was very confident when he spoke to us, but there were questions that we put to him which he couldn’t answer.
Today, News Diggers has established that as a matter of fact, Zamworth, the company that sold the building to government and AZADI investment, the company that built Mr Chitotela a mansion on nkongole are actually sister companies operating from the same premises. We have been able to establish that the owner of AZADI Investment, Mr Yunus Konuk, is also the man in charge of business and financial transactions at Zamworth. We have been able to establish that part of the money that Mr Chitotela’s ministry paid to Zamworth went to AZADI and this Turkish businessman named Konuk. We wonder what Mr Emmanuel Mwamba, the chief spin doctor, has to say to these facts.
But what does this connection tell us about the rest of the story? Since Mr Mwamba had challenged us to ignore what was being claimed on websites and instead seek facts, we wrote a press query to Mr Konuk at AZADI Investment, asking him to explain the relationship between his company and Zamworth. More importantly, we asked Mr Konuk to explain how, a year after being registered at PACRA, his company found it profitable to construct a house for a sitting minister worth K9.8 million on credit. To us, this did not make sense. We asked him to explain if this credit facility was available to any other Zambian wishing to build or if there was something special about Mr Chitotela.
Instead of answering our questions, Mr Konuk unleashed lawyers on us with a demand for an apology and retraction of our publication. We have refused to apologise for publishing what they themselves claimed. We have refused to retract the results of our investigation, because we believe that our story was based on facts. We have therefore challenged Mr Konuk and AZADI Investment to go ahead and serve us court process so that we can reveal the rest of what we have gathered in this scandal. Our point is that if AZADI and Zamworth are the same company run by the same people, then there is cause to suspect that corruption could have taken place, and someone needs to explain.
To be continued…