17 May 2009

How a deported `EPA mogul` enjoys Dar`s life

His dodgy deals cost the government $100million in 1994, but he is today walking and living freely in Dar es Salaam despite the Parliamentary recommendations that he should be arrested and prosecuted immediately.

The man who in 1994 set up and then stole from the debt buy-back programme that is now known as the External Payment Arrears (EPA) account has been living in the country for the last five years despite being declared a prohibited immigrant.

Vidyadhar G. Chavda, an Indian citizen, first came to Tanzania in 1978 without a penny to his name, according to his own words quoted in a 1994 parliamentary report, but after years of working here as an architect he moved into the finance services industry and orchestrated a number of very lucrative, very shoddy deals.

Chavda approached the government with his idea for the creation of the Debt Conversion Programme (DCP) - which sought to reduce the country’s outstanding debts by selling them off to third parties at discounted prices - the deal that cost the country Sh50bn/- ($100m at that time prevailing exchange rate) in taxpayer money from the programme.

“I came to this country without a single penny, a beggar…but I came with a brain worth millions of dollars supported by education and exposure,” Chavda said after the news of his multibillion-shilling scandal broke in 1994.

“The DCP funds were brought totally by my idea and efforts,” he said at the time. “What I have done is beyond the sphere of understanding Parliament…it is a purely financial issue which nobody is capable of grasping.”

To repair the economic damage caused by his sleazy deals, the Central Bank of Tanzania (BoT) was forced to print billions of shillings in 1994.

After his scandal was thoroughly investigated by the Parliamentary Committee chaired by Edward Oyombe Ayila, Chavda was finally deported in 1996, though he was not charged with any wrongdoing.

Despite being deported, Chavda had already caused a strong political rift within the ruling party, and then-minister for home affairs Augustine Mrema resigned because he disagreed with the way the scandal was handled.

In its recommendations, the Parliamentary Committee advised Chavda’s immediate arrest and prosecution for fraud, violation of the Foreign Exchange Act of 1992 and giving false statements contrary to section 122, 309 and 346 of the country’s penal code.

The Committee further recommended that legal action be taken against all traders and lawyers who conspired with Chavda for economic sabotage, and it urged the concerned authorities to cancel the business licenses for those who collaborated with him, including Subhash Patel.

Surprisingly only one recommendation was implemented - to revoke Chavda’s residence permit and deport him - essentially letting him and his partner off the hook.

He is now back in Tanzania where he has been living in the Masaki suburb of Dar es Salaam for the last five years, according to reliable details obtained by The Guardian on Sunday this week.

How he played the game
Having managed to shake the Parliamentary Committee that was formed to investigate him, Chavda carefully planned his comeback in 1997 just three years after he was deported.

On March 18, 1997, Chavda, acting through his lawyers Mkono & Company, asked the High Court of Tanzania to issue a Witness Summons to allow him to testify on August 5 of that year in a pending civil case brought by his wife against him, Civil Case No 130 of 1993.

His wife, an Indian citizen who had continued living in Tanzania legally after Chavda was deported, was suing him over a family financial dispute.

On April 1, 1997, the High Court wrote to the Director of Immigration seeking clarification on the legal position of Chavda’s status once he arrived in the country to testify.

As such, the Director of Immigration informed Mkono & Company on September 25, 1997, that Chavda had been given a visa for 30 days to allow him to enter the country only to testify in court.

Later findings from the court show, however, that during that 30-day period, the civil case was not scheduled for a hearing and Chavda’s claims that he needed to appear in court lacked grounds. His visa expired and he left the country, but with the intention to come back yet again.

Having identified a loophole in the system that could be exploited, Chavda planned a comeback in January 2002 centred on another ‘necessary’ appearance in court.

Chavda again had his lawyers - this time from the firm Gomba & Tadayo - write to the High Court requesting a Witness Summons to testify in Civil Case No 74 of 1996, a separate civil case filed by the National Bank of Commerce against him for an alleged 800m/- in outstanding loan repayments.

He was again allowed to enter the country after being given Entry Visa No 0000695 dated March 4, 2002. Chavda should have left within 28 days of the visa’s issuance, but he had stayed almost a year until the Director of Immigration caught on and ordered him to leave the country immediately.

According to details in our possession, Chavda then filed Miscellaneous Civil Case No 60 of 2003 asking the court to force the immigration department to grant him a visa so that he could testify in the two civil cases facing him.

On March 11, 2004, the High Court issued its ruling in Chavda’s favour, ordering the Director of Immigration to issue a two-year visa to the deportee.

One senior immigration official in Dar es Salaam told The Guardian on Sunday this week that the decision to grant Chavda the visa was both illogical and indefensible.

“The law is very clear; he should be outside the country and is only allowed to come once needed or summoned by the court,” said the official, who asked for anonymity on the grounds that he is not the department’s official spokesperson.

“A hearing can’t take two years, it is just one or a few weeks as long as the pending cases are civil cases.”

Chavda’s two-year visa expired in April 2006, but again neither of the two cases had been heard, and not even preliminary hearings had been held for either of them.

Following of the expiry of his visa, the office of the Attorney General wrote a letter on May 6, 2006, directing the Director of Immigration to act accordingly.

“Since the ruling date was March 11, 2004 then the time for stay in Tanzania has elapsed, and given the fact that Chavda didn’t appeal against the decision, now act according to the law on this issue,” reads part of the letter signed by D.L Chidowu on behalf of the AG.

Despite the AG’s letter, the immigration department has still not taken any action against Chavda.

In a May 25, 2007, letter to Professor Abdullah Safari of Safari Law Chambers - Chavda’s newest lawyer - the AG’s office wrote that it seemed the ministry of home affairs had flipped its position on the matter and was complicit in allowing Chavda to remain in the country.

“The issue of Chavda has taxed much this office. We as advocates of the government and chief legal advisers did our best to defend the position of the government in court to declare Chavda a prohibited immigrant…however it is now clear that the parent ministry [home affairs] has changed its previous position,” reads part of the letter signed by P. J Ngwembe on behalf of the AG.

When asked on Friday why Chavda was still being allowed to remain in Tanzania, Minister for Home Affairs Lawrence Masha was deliberately vague.

“It’s the government that has decided that he should stay in the country because he is still needed,” Masha told The Guardian on Sunday.

The minister would not elaborate on why Chavda was ‘needed’ in the country when he was no longer involved in any currently pending civil cases.

The minister’s response is a curious departure from what his boss, Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda, told Parliament on April 30 this year, in response to a question asked by Kigoma North MP Zitto Kabwe.

The Prime Minister said he wasn’t aware whether Chavda was still in the country, but he promised to thoroughly investigate on which grounds the Asian tycoon was allowed to stay in Tanzania if he were.

The senior immigration official said this ‘confusion’ among top-ranking government officials speaks to the deliberate obfuscation and questionable protection surrounding Chavda and his status in the country.

“This is a man who was supposed to be arrested and charged with criminal offences but surprisingly he is today a free man enjoying the protection of some government officials and a group of Asian traders,” the senior immigration official said.

Guardian on Sunday


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