Sunday, June 23, 2024

Aircraft Carrying Malawi’s Vice President Is Missing

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A search is underway for a missing aircraft carrying the vice president of the southeastern African country of Malawi and nine other people, the country’s government said on Monday.

Vice President Saulos Chilima was traveling on a Malawi Defense Force aircraft that took off at 9:17 a.m. Monday from the capital, Lilongwe. But it missed a scheduled landing at an airport in the north of the country, less than an hour’s flight away. The aircraft disappeared from radar and aviation authorities have been unable to establish contact with it.

The vice president was on his way to attend the funeral of the country’s former attorney general, Ralph Kasambara. But severe weather in Mzuzu, the flight’s destination, prevented the plane from landing, said Lucky Sikwese, an aide in the vice president’s office.

“The Civil Aviation Authority has confirmed that it has not landed at any of the airports,” he said. Authorities have not located a potential crash site. As darkness fell, military and police officers continued the search by vehicle and on foot, but struggled to comb through the thick forests in Malawi’s north, local media reported.

Malawi’s President, Lazarus Chakwera, deployed a search and rescue operation that included both national and regional agencies, the government said in a statement. Mr. Chakwera also canceled a scheduled trip to the Bahamas, the statement said.

Mr. Chilima, 51, is was a telecommunications executive before entering Malawi’s political scene a decade ago. In late 2022 he became embroiled in a corruption scandal and was arrested by the country’s Anti-Corruption Bureau over accusations that he received kickbacks from a businessman in exchange for government contracts.

Mr. Chilima denied any wrongdoing, but the accusations tarnished a government that had sworn to clean up corruption in what is one of Africa’s poorest countries. Last month, authorities in Malawi abandoned the case and withdrew all charges against Mr. Chilima.

Mr. Chilima was expected to launch a bid for the Malawian presidency in the 2025 election.

Once political rivals, President Chakwera and Vice President Chilima formed a coalition in 2019 after losing an election marred by irregularities. The two candidates successfully challenged the result, and, after a judicial panel ruled in their favor, the two men won a subsequent second vote that was carried out in 2020 on the same ticket.

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