JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Malawi says its president Lazarus Chakwera was subjected to additional security checks and searches which delayed his departure from South Africa by seven hours last Friday.
The searches are thought to have been connected to fears that controversial evangelist Shepherd Bushiri would sneak out of South Africa on the president’s plane to avoid standing trial for fraud and money laundering.
Chakwera was due to fly out at 3.30PM but his plane did not take-off until 10.30PM.
“Chief among the causes of the delay was the South African governments refusal to allow Malawi’s advance delegation to travel back home with President Chakwera and his delegation, citing unspecified security reasons,” Malawi’s foreign ministry said in a statement Monday.
The ministry said Chakwera was adamant that he was leaving with his team which had travelled to South Africa ahead of his arrival, and suggested to South African authorities that he and his delegation would fly out of Waterkloof military airbase where they landed, and then pick-up his advance team from OR Tambo International Airport but “they rejected this proposal as well.”
“At the scheduled time of departure from the military airbase, there were dozens of South African security personnel on the ground, who not only inspected the plane and its cargo, but also inspected every passenger on entry,” the statement said.
“The Malawi delegation complied with all these security measures out of deference to the vague security concerns of the South African authorities despite the fact that the manner in which they were conducted and the delay they caused breached diplomatic protocols commensurate with the dignity of President Chakwera’s office and person.”
South African officials have not publicly commented but it is thought that there were concerns Bushiri would fly out with Chakwera, or at least he would attempt to move large amounts of money and other valuables. Unbeknown to authorities, Bushiri had already arrived in Malawi after making an illegal exit from South Africa where he is charged with money laundering involving over R100 million.
“The government of Malawi is aware and grateful that a public statement was recently issued by the South African government, exculpating President Chakwera from false allegations dominating the South African media that his presidential plane was used as a conduit for trafficking two Malawians wanted by South African authorities,” the foreign ministry said.
Chakwera has reportedly said he would not personally intervene in South Africa’s attempts to have Bushiri extradited. Instead, he will let public institutions do their work independently, his spokesman said.