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Malawian 'Prophet' Shepherd Bushiri Arrested After Fleeing South Africa

FILE - Pastor Shepherd Bushiri, right, from the Enlightened Christian Gathering stands on stage while his wife speaks to worshippers at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, Jan. 1, 2020.

Self-proclaimed prophet and church leader Shepherd Bushiri has surrendered to police in Malawi where he had fled. Bushiri is wanted on charges of theft and money laundering in South Africa.

Bushiri and his wife, Mary, fled from South Africa to Malawi last week, violating bail conditions that were set after he was arrested in connection with a multimillion-dollar money laundering case.

Bushiri turned himself in to police Wednesday in Lilongwe. Police spokesperson James Kadadzera said the arrest was in response to a warrant issued by the international police organization Interpol.

"And it actually stated that the two are on trial in South Africa and are believed to have absconded their bail condition," Kadadzera said. "So, we launched a manhunt yesterday, and we are sure that the couple got wind of the news that police are looking for them, and now we have them in our custody."

Kadadzera said police were taking statements from the couple but did not know when they would appear before the court.

Bushiri is a self-proclaimed prophet and leader of his Enlightened Christian Gathering Church, which claims over 70 branches worldwide.

He and his wife and two others are accused of stealing $6.6 million through theft, money laundering and fraud in South Africa.

A spokesperson for Bushiri, Ephraim Nyondo, explained the reason Bushiri fled to Malawi.

"What the prophet wants is to have a fair trial in South Africa. There hasn't been an indication of him having a fair trial there," Nyondo said.

Bushiri's escape coincided with President Lazarus Chakwera's official visit to South Africa last week, which fueled suspicions that the president was part of Bushiri's exit plan.

This led to a diplomatic spat when Chakwera's flight was detained at Waterkloof Air Force Base on Friday, the same day the fugitives failed to report on police bail.

Sheriff Kaisi, a political science lecturer at Blantyre University, told VOA that Bushiri's arrest should end the diplomatic spat.

"We should not spoil that, which is big, just because of a single person," Kaisi said. "Because Malawi was not going to benefit anything by protecting, for example, an individual and putting the system of government in jeopardy."

Meanwhile, the rights group Malawi Black Economic Empowerment Movement said Wednesday that Malawi should not extradite Bushiri and his wife back to South Africa unless the government ensures they will receive a fair trial.

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