PRESIDENT AIDE HAS CASE TO ANSWER-UK Judge GledhillCrown Prosecution Services (CPS) representative in a money laundering case, David Whitaker says Uganda officials aren't cooperating in the case against an aide to President Yoweri Museveni. At the same time a judge here in London has rejected the defense team's motion to dismiss the case, rebuked the Museveni aide, and set a trial date of September 22.
Ananias Tumukunde appeared Friday before a London court, Southwark Crown Court, to answer alleged money laundering charges. The advisor on Science and Technology to Uganda's President Museveni, who was carrying a diplomatic passport when he travelled to London, was arrested and charged with attempting to launder almost £ 103,000.
The authorities contend that checks, including those made out to a Uganda military officer, ended up in Tumukunde's personal account. The officer was identified by the authorities here as a lieutenant colonel Tagaswire Rusoke; the Lt. Col. was once an aide to Uganda's former Vice President Kazibwe. Tagaswire a bio-chemist expert is described as a Lt. Col. but he could be at a lower rank, he was recruited in the PPU now PGB by President's son Maj. Muhoozi Kainerugaba. According to Prosecutor Whitaker, 'Lt. Col. Tagaswire' could be another key witness in this case.
Earlier on, there was drama in the court house when Judge Gledhill ordered Tumukunde to declare which of two law firms was representing him. Tumukunde had initially tried to switch legal representation and was admonished by the judge.
In a signed letter, Tumukunde had instructed the court that the firm of Saunders Solicitor LLP would continue representing him; yet earlier, the Museveni presidential aide had informed the court that the firm of Middle-Montréal was to represent him. “What's going on?” the Judge asked, incredulously. “This nonsense has to stop. I can't have this to continue.”
Added Judge Gledhill: “Do you understand the nature of the charges against you. Now can you tell us who is your representative?”
A lawyer with Middle-Montréal, Mr. Miller, told the judge that the firm was earlier “instructed by Mr. Tumukunde to transfer legal representation as a result of a request by Mr. Tumukunde and the Uganda High Commission."
"Your honor, I had decided to change, but now I want Saunders Solicitor to be my representatives," Tumukunde said.
In the court house, prosecutors also alleged that after his arrest, Tumukunde never disclosed that he was an advisor to the Ugandan president. Prosecutors told the judge that a set of questions to clarify Tumukunde's status had been sent to Uganda's High Commission in London, which is the equivalence of an embassy, and that there had been no response.
“We forwarded the questions; we agreed the time frame when they would respond to our questions but all this was in vain,” Prosecutor David Whitaker told the court. “Up to-date of application no response has been received,” Whitaker said, noting that the deadline was June 27.
Uganda's High Commissioner to the U.K., Joan Rwabyomere, denied that Museveni's government is trying to hide anything.
“I forwarded the questionnaire to the Attorney General in Kampala but we haven't received the response," Rwabyomere said, when contacted by this reporter. “We had to follow the right procedures; but not because we didn't want to cooperate.”
"We shall contact the CPS as soon as we get the response from Kampala," said High Commissioner Rwabyomere when asked about time, date she anticpate to get response from Kampala.
Tumukunde was arrested after Ugandans living in the UK tipped off Scotland Yard; the U.K. special unit has been working to curb widespread international criminal acts of money laundering because some past suspects have been accused of having links with International Terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda.
The Ugandan faces five counts, including conspiracy to money launder; acquiring criminal property; and other related charges. Each count carries a maximum of 14 years jail sentence if convicted.
There was a recent uproar in the Commons, where U.K. lawmakers now want tighter scrutiny over Uganda diplomatic passports.
Previously, several Ugandan officials carrying diplomatic passports have been arrested, convicted or searched in the UK on criminal charges. An issue that increased fears among British lawmakers that these diplomatic passports since they are genuinely issued by Uganda government to such criminals, the travel documents may as well land into the terrorists' hands who can enter or leave the UK territories. On this note, several MPs led by Liberal Democrats' Mike Hancock (MP for Portsmouth South), sponsored a motion ( see UK Parliament, EDM 1736) over concerns about Uganda's diplomatic passport holders being involved in criminal acts.
Previous arrests of Uganda diplomatic passport holders include; earlier this year, Rose Rosalind Birungi, who doubles as minister of Information for Toro, the traditional Kingdom in Uganda, and also serves as an aide to General Salim Saleh, brother of President Museveni and the country's minister of micro-finance, was sentenced to a 12 year prison term here in the U.K.
While travelling on diplomatic passport she was arrested May 20, 2007, at London's Heathrow airport with cocaine valued at more than £400,000, according to the authorities.
Birungi currently, serving her sentence at HMP Send In Woking Surrey.
Another diplomatic passport holder, Dr. Frank Mwine a former Director of Uganda Commercial Bank (UCB) was on May 29, 2008, searched by Plaistow Police on suspicion of drug trafficking when at his wife Ms. Hope Cove Asiimwe residence. Ms. Cove Asiimwe is still under investigations. On June 7, 2006, George Kabyomere brother to Ms. Cove Asiimwe and Michael Matovu were sentenced to serve ten and nine years' jail term respectively for drug trafficking related charges.
Also Ms. Pamela Ayo (a daughter of Mr. Okwi, former minister in the NRM government), she currently in detention at Yarlswood Removal Centre waiting for deportation after serving a six years' jail sentence.
Early, last month, Uganda's Minister for Foreign Affairs (International Relations), Henry Oryem Okello was quoted saying that his government doesn't know how many people holding Uganda diplomatic passport, suggesting since the coveted document is not monitored it may as well be acquired by some bad elements such as terrorists.