BLANTYRE -The tax collecting body, Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA), has pounced on the late President Bingu wa Mutharika’s estate, demanding customs duty on his personal 41 vehicles he purchased duty free while he was in power.
the late Mutharika’s family has challenged MRA’s demand and has since sought temporary relief, saying they were not heard and not given a reasonable notice.
Court documents we have seen show that MRA Commission General John Biziwick on October 23, 2012, wrote the late Mutharika’s young brother, Peter Mutharika, a letter referenced number MRA/CE/TECH/30:00 demanding the said customs duty.
“According to the relevant Customs Law regarding duty free status [of a sitting Head of State of the Republic of Malawi], MRA was and still remains the title holder of the motor vehicles.
“That is to say, MRA remains interested in the motor vehicles as far as customs duty is concerned, in such a way that the motor vehicles cannot be disposed of before duty is paid for such vehicles.
“With the demise of the former President [Bingu wa Mutharika], the law empowers MRA, the Title Holder, to the motor vehicles to get possession of the vehicles in order to ensure that duty is duly paid before any further use by and any third person not entitled to the privilege that the law accorded to the late Head of State.
“We, therefore, request that either you, within 14 days of this notice, handover to MRA the motor vehicles as per the schedule attached hereto, or pay the duty due in respect of each one of the motor vehicles as per the schedule attached hereto,” reads the letter in part.
Biziwick attached registration numbers and the vehicles make such as Nissan Pickup, Toyota Hilux, Isuzu KB, Iveco Eurostar, Mercedez Benz CLK240, KIA Sportage, TATA LTP7135, Toyota Fortuner, Toyota Land Cruiser and MF Tractor among others, some of which belong to Bineth Farm.
Biziwick wrote another letter on December 18, 2012, the said deadline for the ultimatum, though acknowledging that the first letter never reached the family.
“We understand you did not receive our letter of 23rd October, 2012 referred to. However, we have attached a copy of the letter you did not receive for your action. The effective date of the 14 days is today [December 18, 2012],” reads the second letter.
But in response, Peter Mutharika, the late president’s wife Callista and his daughter Tapiwa Mutharika rushed to court through the Chagwanjira and Company law firm, seeking an injunction saying they have a constitutional right to property and freedom from arbitrary deprivation thereof.
In the affidavit supporting notice of application to apply for judicial review, Tapiwa wants the court to quash the demand for payment of the said customs duty, an order quashing MRA’s decision to seize the vehicles, an order prohibiting the impounding of the vehicles and an injunction restraining MRA from effecting their decision.
High Court Judge Healey Potani on Monday granted the Mutharikas an injunction restraining the MRA from effecting their action.
“Upon hearing counsel on behalf of the above-mentioned applicant for leave to apply for Judicial Review… it is ordered that the application be allowed and that the said applicant [the Mutharika's] do have leave to apply for Judicial Review as aforesaid.
“It is further ordered that an injunction be and is hereby issued restraining the respondent from seizing the alleged motor vehicles belonging to the former president, the late Professor Bingu wa Mutharika,” reads Potani’s ruling on the matter.
According to Tapiwa’s affidavit, her father was entitled to importing limitless duty free vehicles under Schedule Part 1 of the President (Salaries and Benefits) Act Cap2:02 of the Law of Malawi.
But Biziwick says in his letter that no person other than the late President is entitled to the privilege and cannot therefore take or use the vehicles before duty is paid.