By Mapwiya Muulupale
“We are all born brave, trusting, and greedy, and most of us remain greedy.” Mignon McLaughlin
Developments from the time Zuneth Sattar was arrested in the UK in early October 2021 continue radiating a sense of foreboding in high and low places.
While Sattar’s arrest was itself a climax of sorts, panic is signaling an earthquake ahead.
On our part, the worst we can do is speculate on who else, other than the Minister of Lands fighting the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in Court has made that disgraceful list.
Let me tell share a story. In the early nineties, forgery was the most sophisticated white-collar crime in Malawi.
In Blantyre, Chilomoni and Chilobwe were havens for syndicates that targeted cashiers of thriving companies.
They would soft-talk a cashier, assure them that ‘everyone’ was doing it and mention examples of well-to-do people as examples of their frequent collaborators.
These characters picked their mark, studied their vanities, and fed those vanities.
If the target’s weakness was the opposite sex, they would find ways to exploit that weakness. If it was the nectar of the gods, i.e., alcohol, they would invite the target to parties and high-end pubs and impress them that crime pays.
Before long, gullible targets would ask exactly what they needed to do, and ‘reluctantly’ the conmen would share the formula:
– get a blank cheque or two plus sample signatures of authorised cheque signatories, and
– the person who the bank calls to verify checks with large sums.
The cashier would deliver.
Next, they would enquire when deposits peaked, and the cashier would advise.
Next meeting, the crooks would bring the cheques with signatures expertly forged. Only three spaces would remain unfilled: date and amounts in words and figures.
They would indulge the cashier that their handwriting being too difficult to forge, the bank tellers might get suspicious; hence the cashier should do the honours.
When the cashier was about to fill the amounts in, the crooks would subtly hint that his cut would be 20%.
Because 80% would be split equally among the signature expert, the project coordinator, the person to cash the check, and their bank “connection” whose vital role was to:
– ensure that the verification call will not be made at all or, if made, is rerouted to them, and
– that the cheque – a crucial piece of evidence – is destroyed.
A fool-proof plan. With the cheque destroyed, nothing could connect the cashier to the strange entry on the bank statement. What could possibly go wrong?
If the cashier had intended to write MK100,000, simple arithmetic would tell him that his cut is MK20,000. With what greed does to us, he’d decide that a MK50,000 cut sounded better and MK50,000 x 5, the cheque amount would be MK250,000. At that time, the Kwacha and the Rand were at par. MK50,000 could easily buy multiple minibuses.
A friend of mine was caught in such a scam.
Conmen duly cashed and gave him his share. However, one evening he arrived home to find a troubled wife. Fiscal Police had come calling and had left a message that he voluntarily presents himself at their Kanabar House office.
He panicked and searched for his ‘band of brothers’ in the nightclubs they frequented.
“How come?” he queried when he found them.
“Our inside man missed the cheque. So, probably seeing it’s in your genuine handwriting, although the signatory denies signing it, Police want to question you,” responded – to the manner born – the signature expert.
My pal was cornered.
“No way I am going to Kanabar!” he cried out.
“There is a way out,” chipped in the coordinator.
My friend was all ears.
“At Mpemba,” soothed the coordinator, “is a witch doctor who makes things like this disappear. But there is a catch.”
“What’s the catch?” my friend asked.
“He is damn expensive; how much cash do you still have?”
“I haven’t spent a penny.” This was yet another blunder.
Right away, they hired a taxi to Mpemba, knocked on some nondescript shack, and a man came out. The coordinator spoke with him in low voices before introducing the cashier and his ‘small’ problem.
The witch doctor declared that this was not a big deal. All could be resolved for MK50 pin.
What to do? Trust this guy or go to prison?
Seeing him vacillating, the conmen swore that this man had been keeping them out of prison all these years, despite everything.
They drove to my friend’s house, where the witch doctor needed to perform rituals. Rituals duly executed, my friend consulted his wife, retrieved the MK50 pin, and paid the witch doctor.
My pal was also given a concoction to mix in cold bath water and bath – naked – on the veranda just before dawn. By the way, this was happening in June.
The witch doctor stressed that after the bath, he could even walk past Kanabar House and fear nothing because just “like the water could not return into the pail, neither would his crime!”
Upon seeing him, the Police, the witch doctor said, would just say, “Anyamata inu, bwanji kuvuta?” and “Ha ha ha” laugh the whole thing off.
Things didn’t happen this way.
The next day at around 8:00am, Fiscal Police came and took him to Blantyre Police Station.
His distressed wife sought out the conmen and told them the magic had failed. Off to Mpemba they drove where they found the witch doctor home.
The irate wife confronted him thus,
“My husband has been arrested. Nothing of the sort you said happened. You’re a fraudster!”
To which the witch doctor, cold as a cucumber, coolly retorted,
“What does Police do with thieves? They arrest them, of course! And since your hubby, not me, is a fraudster, he deserves to be arrested. Leave my property!”
You know what?
The so-called “witch-doctor” was the third member of the gang, and now, they had the entire MK250,000!
My friend went to prison and was released decades later, a broken man.
Speaking to the title above, vis-à-vis Sattar’s beneficiaries, the mysterious list, and the sense of foreboding, I see some who – like my friend above – have been played due to their ravenous greed and foolish if not hypocritical gullibility.
Serves them right!
As to who is on that list, let’s bide our time. Names – big names – will be revealed in a UK Court during Zuneth Sattar’s trial where the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth will come gushing out.
That will be the day of reckoning, and rest assured, weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth will follow.
Hide the list all you want. Arrest people on all other petty issues. In fact, keep and stay on that list; we will soon know you ‘ye sons of vipers’ through court proceedings in the UK.