By Chibaula Silwamba and Bright Mukwasa
LAW enforcement officers have dug up K2.1 billion cash from former minister of labour Austin Liato’s farm.
And President Michael Sata yesterday said the Mafia-style under which the money was hidden raises serious questions about how the same was acquired.
The combined team of officers from the Zambia Police, Anti Corruption Commission and the Drug Enforcement Commission, conducted a two-hour operation at Liato’s farm in Mwembeshi area in Mumbwa on Thursday and recovered the money that was stuffed in safes and steel trunks, buried under two layers of a concrete slab.
Zambia Police spokesperson Elizabeth Kanjela said the law enforcement officers got a tip from concerned members of the public that there was money and vehicles hidden at Liato’s farm.
“This is farm number 44 Mpamba settlement scheme and it belongs to Mr Austin Liato. Upon moving in, our officers found that there was some money amounting to K2.1 billion cash and there were safes and some trunks that were buried in an unfinished building,” Kanjela explained. “In one safe there was K1 billion and in the other there was K1.1 billion. The operation started about 16:00 hours and finished after 18:00 hours on 24th November, 2011.”
She said the unfinished building where the money was hidden had grill doors.
“Apparently the grilled doors had some alarms. So when the officers opened the grilled doors, the alarm went off. The officers had to break the concrete, but found another concrete slab under which they had to break as well to recover the money,” Kanjela said. “Even in the garage where the vehicles are there is an alarm.”
She said Liato was not at the farm at the time of the search but the investigators had a search warrant.
“There were some people at the farm that witnessed the breaking and counting of the money. Apart from the money, there were many other things like tractors,” she said. “When the money was being put there, all the workers were chased away and they could only report in the evening. We were not told the dates when the money was put there.”
One bundle of cash was indicating March 11, 2010, showing the money was from Bank of Zambia (BoZ) while on another, it indicated March 15, 2011 and Zanaco, a sign that the money was withdrawn from the banking sector last year.
“The purpose of carrying out this operation is to find out how Mr Liato managed to secure a lot of money like this. The way of storage is actually not right according to the Bank of Zambia Act. We will need to investigate,” Kanjela said.
Asked whether or not the money belonged to Liato, Kanjela responded: “that cannot be told but at least what we know is that it was found at his farm.”
She said Liato would be summoned very soon to explain the source of the money and why he kept it underground.
“We are going to investigate to know the source of this money,” said Kanjela.
Liato did not answer his mobile phone but a person who responded to The Post’s call said: “He Liato is busy in a meeting” before cutting the line.
Police Inspector General Dr Martin Malama, who was in the company of Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) director general Rosewin Wandi and Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) commissioner Alita Mbahwe at dawn at the former Taskforce on Corruption offices where the money was taken for temporal storage, said the matter would be investigated and culprits would be prosecuted.
“This is not harassment, it’s not persecution. What Zambians want is justice. So any responsible citizen will not make heroes people who are suspected to have plundered our national wealth. These are criminal cases,” Dr Malama said. “We take it that every responsible citizen will support these criminal investigations that are going on. Our officers from the police, ACC and DEC thank you very much for serving your country. I know it is 03:00hours in the morning. For the press, you are doing a great job for your nation, let us all work together to protect the future of our generation and generations to come and that of our grand children.”
He called for thorough investigation of criminal cases for the benefit of Zambians.
“We don’t want someone with impunity hiding money underground. This money is meant for the development of this nation,” he said. “Fellow officers from Zambia Police, ACC and DEC, this is time to ensure that the worth of the nation is protected. You officers must feel fired up within yourselves to ensure that we investigate these cases.”
Dr Malama banned political party cadres from camping outside the investigative wings’ offices.
And according to a statement issued by presidential spokesperson George Chellah, President Sata applauded the combined team of Zambia Police Service, DEC and ACC officers for conducting a successful operation that resulted in a seizure of K2.1 billion cash at Liato’s farm.
President Sata said he learnt with great shock the discovery of such huge sums of money concealed in a strange and most unusual manner at Liato’s farm.
“No doubt, the mafia-style under which this money was hidden raises serious questions about how the same was acquired. It breaks my heart to see how someone could go to such extremes to conceal money if it was legitimately acquired,” President Sata said. “This only goes to show the Zambian people the extent to which the mandate they gave those they entrusted with authority to preside over affairs of state was abused.”
He said unearthing a total sum of K2.1 billion buried in two steel trunks under a thick layer of concrete slab in a highly fortified and electronically fitted structure, sends a wrong signal about the image of the country because this is not exemplary behaviour from political leaders.
President Sata said this was just one of the many operations the combined team of investigators was carrying out regarding suspected criminal activities that took place under the previous MMD regime.
“Of late, some suspects have been unreasonably grumbling by issuing pre-emptive statements to try and threaten a duly elected government against carrying out its legitimate mandate. This discovery is a serious indictment on all those elements that may be facing possible charges of corruption and other forms of wrong-doing including those who have seen it opportune and convenient to betray the Zambian people by siding with such people,” President Sata said. “Let me make it abundantly clear that this is just the beginning and our colleagues should not panic or resort to desperate measures of seeking false public sympathy by mischaracterising legitimate investigations as persecution. This is not a witch-hunt, we are moving systematically by taking into consideration all leads and clues into what happened in the past. After all the Zambian people are the complainants and they deserve nothing but the truth.”
President Sata urged the investigating wings to ensure that they follow the due process of the law and take to court only those cases they are satisfied with.