Self-proclaimed prophet and controversial millionaire Shepherd Bushiri could be extradited from his native country of Malawi to South Africa where he is wanted on money laundering, theft and fraud charges.
On Monday, Malawi’s government agreed to South Africa’s request to extradite Bushiri and his wife, Mary, to face trial in South African courts.
The fugitive pair skipped bail in South Africa last month and returned to Malawi, claiming they fled because their lives were in danger and they would not have a fair trial.
Malawi’s Information Minister and government spokesperson Gospel Kazako said on Monday the documents for the pair’s extradition had been signed by his Homeland Security Minister Richard Chimwendo Banda.
Kazako stressed, however, that it was up to the courts to decide whether Bushiri and his wife should be arrested and sent to South Africa. Should an arrest warrant be issued in Malawi, the pair will likely face justice in Malawi first and then will possibly be returned to South Africa.
It was not yet clear if the Bushiris would be arrested and some have suggested the extradition process could take years.
Bushiri, the founder of the Enlightened Christian Gathering church, is known for a lavish lifestyle that includes expensive clothes, sports cars and large properties. He claims to have cured HIV patients, treated blindness and brought back people from the dead.
The fugitive preacher has also built a business empire mainly through a company called Shepherd Bushiri Investments, described on his church’s website as having “interests in mining, real estate, an airline and other entrepreneurial pursuits”.
He says men of God should be rich and justifies his venture into business as a way to support his family. But his swift rise from humble beginnings to amassing a fortune remains a mystery to many and has raised eyebrows, including allegations of swindling members of his church.
Bushiri and his wife have also faced various criminal allegations in South Africa, including fraud and money laundering charges amounting to some $6.6m.
The couple, which denies the charges, was released on bail in early November and had their passports taken away by South African authorities. But on November 14, it emerged that Bushiri and his wife had broken their strict bail conditions and fled to Malawi.
It remains unknown how the Bushiris managed to flee undetected but the news rattled South Africa and prompted questions about the effectiveness of the country’s justice and border control systems.
The escape coincided with an official two-day visit by Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera to South Africa. Both countries have denied that the preacher escaped through the plane which carried the Malawian officials.
Chris Muronzi contributed to this report.