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By Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala
DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Tanzania's anti-graft watchdog said on Thursday it had frozen the assets of its chief accountant and planned to charge him with corruption, part of an aggressive anti-graft drive in which thousands of officials have already lost their jobs.
President John Magufuli, in office since November 2015, has vowed to root out the "cancer" of high-level corruption that has long bedevilled economic growth in the east African nation.
The state-run Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB) said it had secured a magistrate's order freezing the assets of Godfrey Gugai, its chief accountant. They include six vehicles and 40 apartments, houses and prime plots in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam and other major urban centres.
"The Resident Magistrate's Court of Dar es Salaam region at Kisutu has issued freezing orders against properties of one Godfrey Gugai, who is about to be charged with corruption offences and other related offences," the PCCB said in a public notice.Reuters was unable to contact Gugai and his ex-colleagues said he was not reachable. It was not immediately clear whether he was already in detention but the PCCB said he would be arraigned at a Dar es Salaam court "over the next few days".
Under Tanzania's anti-graft law, public officials convicted of possession of unexplained wealth face a sentence of up to seven years in jail, a fine or both.Businesses have long said corruption and government inefficiency are major obstacles to investing in Tanzania, which ranked 116 out of 176 countries in Transparency International's 2016 corruption index, where No. 1 is deemed least corrupt.Magufuli has dismissed several senior public officials, including the head of the government's anti-graft body, the tax chief, a senior railway official and the head of the port authority.Nicknamed "the Bulldozer" for his ability to push through major projects, Magufuli in April ordered the immediate dismissal of more than 9,900 civil servants after a nationwide verification of academic credentials uncovered workers with forged school and college certificates.The crackdown on academic fraud came after another purge launched in March 2016 discovered more than 19,700 "ghost workers" on the country's public sector payroll.
(Reporting by Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala; Editing by George Obulutsa and Gareth Jones)