By John Masiye
Most businessmen of Asian origin in Malawi are dishonest and corrupt. However, there are a few who are the real ‘bad apples’. President Lazarus Chakwera has emphasized that the insatiable appetite to steal state resources by Asian businesspersons and a few corrupt and unprofessional government officials has come to an abrupt end. Corruption, fraud and utter theft are evils that take away resources from development to the pockets of a few people.
Abdul Karim Batatawala is one of the filthy rich Asian businessmen in Malawi. To climb up that high, he infiltrated the judiciary, police, Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) and the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), and other strategic government agencies.
Abdul Karim Batatawala is a controversial business mogul who has always been in the news for bad reasons. His money is dirty, obtained through illegal means, including corruption, fraud and tax evasion, among others. He has also been involved in money laundering for many years.
In one instance, an MRA investigation revealed that Batatawala had not been submitting income tax returns to the MRA for many years since the year 2010.
He also occasionally submitted Value Added Tax (VAT) returns to the Malawi Revenue Authority Appellant during this period. The investigation further revealed that Abdul Karim Batatawala had under-remitted Pay As You Earn (PAYE). The money involved is in billions of Malawi Kwacha.
Sources close to the flamboyant billionaire businessman reveal that he worked as a salesman at Comet Limited, a hardware company in Limbe owned by Kassam Okhai in the 1990s. Today, Abdul Karim Batatawala is a multi-billionaire whose net wealth is MK50 billion.
Abdul Karim Batatawala owns almost half of real property in Malawi’s commercial capital, Blantyre. He owns several companies in Malawi and abroad. He owns real property in South Africa, India, the United Kingdom and Dubai.
Abdul Karim Batawalala is the main shareholder in one of Malawi’s premier healthcare facilities, Sheffer Clinic, in Blantyre. Under his ‘Pamodzi Settlement Trust’, Abdul Karim Batawalala today owns 54 luxury and fully furnished apartments in Sunnyside, Namiwawa, Mandala, Nyambadwe, Moneymen, Mpingwe, Mudi, Stewards & Lloyds, opposite Mwaiwathu Hospital, a luxury Lakeshore Cottage in Mangochi (next to Sun ‘N’ Sand). He also owns 5000 square metre warehouses in Makata industrial area and Ginnery Corner, 10 shops and 45-room office complex at Ginnery Corner.
According to sources close to his involvement in state procurement deals, state enterprises such as Escom, Malawi Posts Corporation (formerly MPTC), Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC), Malawi Police Service, the Malawi Defence Forces and the Department of Immigration have been victims of Abdul Karim Batawalala shady business deals. At some point, MHC went bankrupt owing to fraudulent businesses it transacted with Abdul Karim Batatawala.
Through his various companies such as L & G Tools, Novatech Engineering, KASCO Enterprises, Gratolite, SS Express Agency, Africa Commercial Agency, Lido Electricals, Reliance Trading, Africa Amateur Agency and Pamodzi Settlement Trust, Abdul Karim Batawalala set up a system that ensured that he secures multi-million Kwacha businesses with the said state-owned companies and departments to supply various goods and services.
Abdul Karim Batatawala takes advantage of ‘restricted tendering’ in some state companies, including the Army, Police and Department of Immigration, where all competing companies belong to him but registered in other people’s names including his wife. So, he gets the business under any circumstances.
Restricted tendering is a procurement method that limits the request for tenders to a select number of suppliers, contractors or service providers. This method of procurement is also called ‘Limited Bidding and Selective Tendering’. Competition is limited to only firms shortlisted or invited by the procuring entity.
When he gets the business contracts, he connives with concerned officers and inflates the prices of the goods and services, making a huge killing in the process, which he shares with his accomplices.
In some cases, Abdul Karim Batatawala does not supply the goods and services as agreed in the business contract agreement but he will demand payment for the same, which he gets, somehow. If anyone within the system tries to raise eyebrows, Abdul Karim Batatawala rushes to the courts, which he also controls. He is usually loitering around the High Court complex at Chichiri.
Abdul Karim Batatawala is no stranger to arrests. He has been arrested several times but his cases do not see the light of the day in the courts of Malawi. He is simply a Godfather that no-one dares touch.
He recently demanded that the Immigration Department pays him MK53 billion for the supplies of officers’ uniforms, five (5) times the agreed amount. He has met resistance from the government and he has moved the courts to intervene.
He also recently sought a court injunction restraining the Immigration and Citizenship Department from awarding a contract to introduce E-passport services and upgrade the Passport Issuance System (IPS) to the winning bid. Abdul Karim Batatawala’s company, IRIS, failed during the preliminary assessment as it did not meet some basic requirements.
It is very important for President Chakwera’s government to stop dealing with Abdul Karim Batatawala’s companies because he a danger to the economic growth of the country.
Azhar Chaudhry Mahmood
Another ‘bad apple’ among the dishonest and corrupt businessmen of Asian origin is Azhar Chaudhry Mahmood. This is a cunning businessman who has always wanted to endear himself with the leadership of that time in order to win himself huge government contracts.
Azhar Chaudhry Mahmood is the Chairman of the Pakistani Welfare Association in Malawi. Besides, he is the self-acclaimed Pakistani Consular in Malawi and through his ‘Consulate’, he engages in various illicit dealings, including fraudulent visa applications which result in human trafficking.
He is also involved in various land disputes, including the famous Kanengo Northgate Project, where he is named as having acquired land fraudulently through a company called GM Properties Limited that it owns land in Kuliyani, Mwambakanthu and Kwindanguwo Villages where the stalled Project sits.
Azhar Chaudhry Mahmood and Norman Chisale, former security aide to former President Peter Mutharika, are currently under investigations following revelations they dubiously acquired the over 100 hectares of land.
Azhar Chaudhry Mahmood used to own Sana Cash ‘N’ Carry chain of stores. He sold it but the business is constantly under the MRA and ACB radar for suspected tax evasion, money laundering and other illicit dealings when it was under him.
President Chakwera is determined to stamp out corruption, which undermines development efforts by diverting resources away from the basic public services that are necessary for creating prerequisite conditions for shared prosperity.
The Tonse leadership realizes that it is impossible to attain shared prosperity if the culture of rule of law does not prevail in society. People like Azhar Chaudhry Mahmood and Abdul Karim Batatawala have no place in the New Malawi President Chakwera is building.