Revealed! Details of how fugitive Shepherd Bushiri left South Africa together with his alleged partner-in-crime have emerged in an investigative report published earlier today.
The details, compiled through a comprehensive work of investigation, have further implicated President Lazarus Chakwera’s regime and the country’s intelligence officials.
Published by the Sunday Independent, the investigative report claims that the two fugitives who are arguably the Most Wanted in South Africa as of today applied cosmetics like spy agents in the cold-war era to escape detection.
The paper further claims in its report that the Malawi government issued the two fugitives new diplomatic passports before being smuggled in President Chakwera’s chartered presidential jet.
The Sunday Independent says President Chakwera was aware of the plot and gave it a green light.
“Fugitive prophet Shepherd Bushiri and his wife, Mary, were issued with diplomatic passports bearing decoy names and applied with cosmetic facial changes before being smuggled out of South Africa in Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera’s hired jet” reads the report, citing intelligence sources privy to the investigations of how Bushiri vanished in South Africa only to appear in Malawi coincidentally on the same date that Chakwera landed at the Kamuzu International Airport from his 2-day-trip in South Africa.
The Bushiris were issued with “diplomatic passports bearing decoy names and applied with cosmetic facial changes before being smuggled out of South Africa in Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera’s hired jet”.
The couple is wanted for fraud, theft and money laundering about K6 billion in two separate cases.
“Bushiri left in Chakwera’s plane last Friday [13 November 2020] following an operation planned by Malawian intelligence officials and executed by its embassy in Pretoria”, claims the paper citing South Africa’s security cluster – including diplomatic and military intelligence sources, police officers, and bureaucrats.
In its investigation, the paper discovered that Bushiri and his wife “were fetched from their home in Centurion in a Malawian embassy vehicle ahead of a scheduled 6pm flight as Chakwera wrapped up his meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa”.
“They were driven to Air Force Base Waterkloof as part of an elaborate plot that involved senior Malawian and South African politicians and government officials”.
It is further alleged that the plot kicked off with whisking off Bushiri’s children back to Malawi and that the plan was hatched three weeks ago.
The paper further reveals that Bushiri decided to leave South Africa after his lawyers had told him that the National Prosecuting Authority had a strong case of fraud and money-laundering against him and that he faced a minimum 15-year jail term.
Chakwera’s visit is believed to have been a decoy to smuggle the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church leader and his wife, Prophetess Mary Bushiri.
Both Malawi and South Africa have dismissed the allegations as baseless. The two government insists that the two fugitives did not leave South Africa aboard Chakwera’s hired presidential jet.
The Escape Plan: Mbalame ibwelere kuchitsa
While citing what it calls “highly placed sources”, this is how the paper details how the fugitive Bushiri popularly known as Major 1 was smuggled together with his wife:
1. Bushiri approached Chakwera for help through the Malawian embassy; Chakwera instructed the embassy to hatch a plan to save Bushiri and his multi-million rand assets or smuggle him out of South Africa;
2. Malawian intelligence operatives at the embassy considered options, including smuggling him through Mozambique, whisking him off in the presidential jet, or lobbying for Mary’s acquittal and a lesser sentence for Bushiri;
3. After spending two weeks in jail, Bushiri was given the options and flatly refused the SA jail option; Chakwera, through the Malawian embassy, then lobbied the Ramaphosa administration for assistance;
5. Some members of the judiciary were then lobbied to ensure Bushiri was released on “soft” bail with less stringent conditions, no attachment of his bank accounts and assets except the R5m property in Centurion;
6. Both governments agreed to approve Chakwera’s request for a state visit and use it to smuggle Bushiri out via Air Force Base Waterkloof;
7. An advance team was then sent to SA to finalise logistical preparations for Bushiri’s escape;
8. The Bushiris were fetched from their home in Centurion in a Malawian embassy vehicle and issued with false diplomatic passports and had facial cosmetic changes applied on them;
9. However, SA police, military and diplomatic officers at Waterkloof raised questions about three passengers – two males and a female – whose names did not appear on Chakwera’s preapproved passenger list;
10. With rumours that the Bushiris failed to report to the police station, the officials got more suspicious as the height of two passengers resembled that of Bushiri and Mary;
11. A fracas ensued as the military police wanted to detain the three passengers, but the Malawians sought Department of International Relations and Co-operation Minister Naledi Pandor’s intervention;
12. Pandor dispatched officials to sort out the problem and they agreed the three suspicious passengers would be allowed to board Chakwera’s plane at OR Tambo; Chakwera’s plane made a stopover at OR Tambo, 25km from Waterkloof, to pick up the advanced team which included the Bushiris;
12. Bushiri and Mary, with facial cosmetics to disguise them, were whisked onto the plane through the diplomatic entrance; Three members of the advance team were left behind to secure and dispose of Bushiri’s assets;
13. The plane left SA shortly after 10pm last Friday and landed in Malawi after midnight;
14. The Malawian government ordered a media blackout at the airport before Chakwera’s arrival;
15. The Bushiris disembarked from the plane immediately after Chakwera and his wife;
16. Some journalists managed to capture footage of the Bushiris disembarking; but the Malawian intelligence later confiscated and classified it as top secret;
17. In SA, intelligence officers and some government officials lobbied or spun journalists and editors to blame the country’s porous borders and corruption for Bushiri’s escape.
The Cold War Spy
A highly placed source said: “Even though the passports were not saying Bushiri, he was using a decoy name. Their surnames are not Bushiris but they look like the Bushiris, with few cosmetic changes here and there.
“A bit on Bushiri’s face and on the wife as well there were few cosmetic changes. Those cosmetic changes fitted the profiles of those people on the passports. The fracas started, the back and forth, the minister of Dirco and by that time it was now obvious to the ordinary men and women in enforcement that no, no it appears here there might be some smuggling taking place.
“They searched and searched, luggage to luggage but they couldn’t find the luggage with Bushiri’s name. But there were people, with diplomatic passports, who looked like them. The face does not fit this one of Bushiri but the height and eyes do somehow look the same.
“But then the government decided that these people that are suspicious, who the military intelligence said they must be detained to ascertain their bonafides, must be released.
“Then the Malawian president and the Malawian foreign minister started putting pressure on us, saying you have never treated us this way, we feel like you are ill-treating us. There is nothing sinister there. These are my people, they came here first. At OR Tambo they used the diplomatic entrance to go to the tarmac. But even on that side, money exchanged hands.”
Another source said the Malawian intelligence’s plan involved getting Bushiri’s children back to that country first to ensure they were not used as bait.
“The first conclusion was, let’s get the kids here. The kids must be in Malawi before the operation starts. They were testing the waters with this operation so that if it failed, they were going to smuggle him through Mozambique. They would give him his passport and he would cross from Mozambique to Malawi. The other option was, remain here and let the wife come home, you face the music and we would intervene diplomatically for a lesser sentence. But the guy refused and told the president that, no, he wants out. He does not even want to be in jail here. The two weeks he spent there are hell,” the security cluster insider.
A military source said members of the army were concerned about the government’s role in the matter because it sent a wrong message about the country.
“Everybody is surprised. The statement is issued by the Malawians, not by our foreign affairs. Why would a plane fly for 25km and land again, with such huge costs. What was at stake? And why has the government not sent a diplomatic note of protest to Malawi? Why did the NPA not appeal the release of Bushiri on bail because it was obvious he was a flight risk?” the source asked.
A diplomatic source said South Africans should make peace with the fact that Bushiri was not coming back to face justice.
Malawi24 could not independently verify the allegations the Sunday Independent highlights in its investigative report.
As of press time, fugitive Bushiri who was released indefinitely on Tuesday this week just a day following his arrest had not commented on the report. He however distanced President Chakwera in his arrest.
He handed himself to the Malawi police together with his wife just in time before an Interpol Red Notice on them could be activated.
The kingmaker: Tonse Alliance & the diplomatic passport saga
Meanwhile, a South African politician alleged this week that Bushiri financed Chakwera’s presidential bid with his Tonse Alliance partners.
Soon after his arrest, Bushiri announced hiring some of the ‘Tonse Alliance’ lawyers who successfully secured the nullification of the 2019 Malawi presidential elections.
Chakwera won the ‘re-run’ which was held in June this year.
Neither Chakwera nor his Malawi Congress Party (MCP) has commented on these allegations.
Additional details that Malawi24 has also indicate that Bushiri has strong ties with both the ruling MCP and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The ECG leader and his wife were first issued diplomatic passports by the DPP regime allegedly following an order by the then Malawi President Peter Mutharika.
A source privy to the issue claimed that two high-ranking cabinet ministers made an effective case for the controversial prophet to be handed a diplomatic passport.
Malawi government confirmed issuing the couple the diplomatic passports which the immigration department said came without the diplomatic status associated with such passports.
However, an affidavit prepared by South African prosecutors claimed the Bushiris used the passports to evade customs and that the couple behaved as they pleased whenever flying in and out of South Africa.