(Johannesburg, February 21, 2023) – Malawi authorities must protect Chartered Accountant Biswick Kaswaswa, who blew the whistle on his employer in 2018 and was subsequently charged with criminal breach of trust, imprisoned, and tortured, the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF) said today.
A new report published today by US-based investigative group The Sentry shows that with the support of the South Sudanese Government, a loan deal between Trinity and a regional bank, “enabled powerful individuals to benefit personally from the manipulation of business worth hundreds of millions of dollars.”
PPLAAF assisted Kaswaswa, a former finance officer for South Sudanese company Trinity Energy Ltd, with legal and security support and facilitated psycho-social help as he worked to reintegrate into society.
Kaswaswa relocated from Malawi to Juba, South Sudan for the position in 2018. Shortly after his contract started, Kaswaswa uncovered a complete lack of financial management regulations and policies. After he began working to improve the system, he experienced resistance. He later helped The Sentry reveal red flags for illicit business practices, including bribery, tax evasion, and trade-based money laundering.
“The corrupt activities were against my individual values and my professional ethics”, Biswick Kaswaswa said. “As a chartered accountant, I am supposed to be ethical, have high levels of integrity and must be honest. I am supposed to be fair in all the dealings and ensure that all transactions are done at arm’s length.”
Malawi lacks a comprehensive whistleblower protection act but does have a number of statutes and laws addressing whistleblower protection, including anonymity, protection from retaliation, and punitive measures for retaliation against whistleblowers. These should be used immediately to protect Kaswaswa.
“Biswick has been abducted, detained, and tortured in an effort to silence him for doing the right thing as a chartered accountant respecting ethics”, said Pusetso Morapedi, PPLAAF’s Southern Africa Director. “These disgraceful reprisals must stop as someone like Biswick should be hailed as the hero he is. It’s time to change the whole whistleblowing ecosystem.”
Kaswaswa helped to show that Trinity was involved in multiple irregular activities: it operated suspicious transactions including using the black market to exchange currencies, issued suspicious and fake invoices, paid government officials without signatures, and provided “loans” to government ministries.
On October 26th, 2018, Kaswaswa was en route to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, when he was arrested at Kigali International Airport in Rwanda and detained. He was travelling to approach the Embassy of Malawi in Tanzania to explain Trinity’s illicit activities and, fearing for his safety, to leave South Sudan. But in the meanwhile, Trinity Energy Ltd. had filed charges against him alleging criminal breach of trust and the theft of USD 350,000 from the company. On December 7th, 2018 he was extradited to South Sudan where he was moved from one detention centre to another, including a shipping container, until his release in March 2020.
Throughout his detention, Kaswaswa was beaten during interrogations and threatened with death.
After a nearly year-long trial, the Country Court in Juba dismissed the case due to a lack of sufficient evidence and Kaswaswa went back to Malawi.
Kaswaswa believes that the irregularities he witnessed at Trinity Energy Ltd. constitute a sophisticated and intricate money laundering scheme.
PPLAAF joins The Sentry’s recommendations and calls on Malawi’s authorities to urge South Sudan’s government to declare a full pardon for Malawian whistleblower Biswick Kaswaswa following his unlawful detention and torture between 2018 and 2020. Malawi’s authorities should also urge the Rwandan government to investigate Kaswaswa’s illegal extradition from Rwanda to South Sudan in 2018.
PPLAAF is a non-governmental organisation established in 2017 to protect whistleblowers, as well as to advocate and engage in strategic litigation on their behalf when their revelations deal with the general interests of African citizens.