The senior Malawian child welfare official who was to go to London to assess whether Madonna could adopt a little boy from the southern African country has been removed from the high-profile case, officials said Monday.
The removal of Penstone Kilembe, the director of Malawi’s Child Welfare Services, follows allegations that he solicited money from the singer for the trip.
Simon Chisale, the country’s chief social welfare officer, said the government had gone to court last week to have Kilembe replaced as the assessor in the Madonna adoption. Chisale said he was now planning to go to London this week to carry out the delayed assessment of toddler David Banda’s progress.
Kilembe, who returned to Malawi late Monday after attending a conference in the United States last week, said he had not heard of the move and denied any wrongdoing.
“I am not aware of these developments. I have just arrived from New York and nobody from my office has told me anything. I will be in the office tomorrow,” he said.
Madonna and her husband, film director Guy Ritchie, were granted temporary custody of David, then 13 months old, last October. His father had placed him in an orphanage after his mother died.
Critics accused Madonna, who found David in the orphanage while in Malawi to launch a project to help the country’s 2 million AIDS orphans, of using her celebrity status to circumvent Malawian adoption laws — allegations she denies.
The latest developments are likely to raise concerns that Malawi’s child welfare department is in a state of disarray at a time when it is under international scrutiny.
Madonna’s publicist, Liz Rosenberg, said in a statement that the adoption is going forward as originally planned.
“The plans to finalize the adoption of Madonna and Guy Ritchie’s son, David, are proceeding as outlined almost a year ago — the day the Malawian Government granted them their ‘interim’ adoption,” the statement read. “There has been absolutely no interference with Government Officials or use of Madonna’s ‘celebrity’ to speed up this adoption as reported. All appropriate legal requirements are being followed, including a home visit.”
The superstar’s rep added that the family is eagerly awaiting the final adoption.
“Madonna and her entire family look forward to being granted the final adoption early next year — 18 months following the original interim adoption order,” the statement concluded.
There have been newspaper reports in Malawi that Minister of Gender and Child Welfare Kate Kainja-Kaluluma stopped Kilembe from going to London because he had allegedly solicited funds from Madonna for the trip without the minister’s knowledge or permission. According to the original custody order, Kilembe was appointed to oversee the adoption, which included inspections of the star’s home in May and December.
Kilembe, who disputes the allegations, said he had spoken to the minister and that the matter had been resolved.
Malawian rights organizations have said their government needs help monitoring Madonna’s planned adoption.
In an affidavit presented to the court, child welfare officials said Kilembe was leaving the ministry and “moving on to a new posting.” It did not give details on his new position.
Chisale confirmed Monday that he had been appointed to replace Kilembe but refused to discuss the adoption further.
“Yes, I have just been informed I would do the assessment but I am not mandated to discuss the issue until perhaps we finalize the report,” he said.
The couple’s custody order could be revoked if it is found that David was being treated differently from their other children, Lourdes, 10, and Rocco, 6, or if the toddler’s rights were being violated in any way.