17. September 2019

Malawian justice practitioners build understanding of MLA and offshore structures – and each other

Malawi MLA training

At the opening of a five-day workshop in Malawi on Mutual Legal Assistance and the Misuse of Offshore Structures to Conceal Beneficial Ownership, the Honourable Justice Dr. Chifundo Kachale hit the nail on the head. Imprisonment alone is not enough, he said. Recovering the stolen assets sends a strong message that crime does not, and should not, pay.

Dr. Kachale, Judge of the High Court in Lilongwe, gave an example from his own experience judging a corruption-related case in which the offender was sent to prison – but the state was unable to go after the proceeds of the crime. It is not an isolated case.

To enable the Malawian state to recover stolen assets hidden abroad, criminal justice practitioners need to build their skills in:

  • international cooperation to secure admissible evidence through Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA);
  • investigating the complex offshore structures used to conceal criminally derived assets.

Diverse participants builds mutual understanding

Many of the 19 participants were building on knowledge and skills gained during two previous workshops on Financial Investigations and Asset Recovery in July 2018 and January 2019.

They included members of the judiciary, investigators and prosecutors from the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) respectively, and representatives of the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA), Malawi Police Service (MPS) and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW).

This diversity helped participants from different parts of the criminal justice system understand each other better. Investigators and prosecutors can now better understand what is required as admissible evidence in court. Judges, on the other hand, can appreciate the difficulties of gathering relevant evidence and investigating the sophisticated instruments that criminals can use to disguise the proceeds of crime.

Simulated investigations – from theory to practice

The workshop, held in Lilongwe from 2–6 September 2019, was developed and delivered by the International Centre for Asset Recovery (ICAR) training team in line with their uniquely tailored and hands-on training methodology. It combined foundation-building lectures and two separate, simulated corruption/money laundering investigations, which the participants had to “investigate”. 

These investigations helped the participants to apply their new knowledge on Mutual Legal Assistance and corporate structures used by criminals to hide their ill-gotten money, such as shell companies and trusts.

Identifying the beneficial owner of assets hidden in these offshore corporate structures is essential in linking criminals with crimes and the proceeds of their crimes.

"An eye-opener"

One of the participants, an experienced Chief Resident Magistrate in Lilongwe, commented that the training had been “an eye opener”. He expressed the opinion that although it was commonly believed that much of the money misappropriated during the infamous Cashgate scandal had been utilised in Malawi, it was also possible that some of it had been concealed through the use of corporate structures and required additional investigation.

Another participant, a Chief Resident Magistrate in Zomba, thanked the ICAR trainers on behalf of the participants, emphasising how important it had been for participants from different districts and agencies/institutions to get together. He thanked the trainers for the experience they had brought to the training as this enhanced their capacity to do a better job.

He also referred to the WhatsApp group that one of the ACB investigators had started, which would allow the participants to “remain in contact, network and platform together as we cannot operate in isolation”. This would allow them to share information “as MLA starts at home”.