By The Independent Reporter
On September 25, Justus Kashoma, a young Kampala businessman, was arrested at Stanbic Bank’s Garden City branch for allegedly trying to withdraw US$ 500,000 in cash. The bank has not officially commented on this matter but from press reports and statements attributed to Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura, Kashoma has a case to answer, as do Pte. David Muhumuza, an intelligence staff and driver of Rujumbura MP Jim Muhwezi, one Capt. Muzamiru Wakulira and three Stanbic Bank staff; Sam Wanamama, Sharifa Kyamanywa, and Barry Zizinga.
From all the published information so far, this should be a simple case between a bank and its customer. Yet is has been turned into a national matter.
This article is about the manner in which government departments have abused their authority and power and infringed upon the rights of several citizens of this country charging them with aggravated robbery in circumstances that simply don’t add up.
What is aggravated robbery? Under the Penal Code Act, ‘Aggravated Robbery is committed when the accused person uses or threatens to use a deadly weapon or causes death or grievous harm to any person immediately before or immediately after the time of the robbery.’ Robbery in itself is committed when ‘a person who steals anything and at or immediately before or immediately after the time of stealing it uses or threatens to use actual violence to any person or property in order to obtain or retain the thing stolen or to prevent or overcome resistance to its being stolen or retained.’
In its Issue No. 30, The Independent provided an account, based on the information provided by the arresting police officer, Alphose Mutabazi, of the nature and circumstances of how Kashoma was arrested. Clearly, there was nothing at the bank that came anywhere close to an attempted robbery. Yet police preferred charges of aggravated robbery against Kashoma and six other persons. Because the offence, upon conviction carries a death sentence, the DPP had to consent to the charge. The DPP wasted no time in consenting to the charge!
What is disturbing is that the accused had been detained for seven days at Jinja Rd Police Station prior to being produced in court. Despite government statements on the importance of ending unlawful extended detentions, law enforcement authorities continue to hold criminal suspects for long periods without formal charge or trial.
Kashoma was peacefully seated in the executive wing of the bank branch whilst he was served. He was searched by the arresting officer and found NOT to be armed. He was all ALONE in the bank and the armed escorts were waiting for him in the basement parking of the shopping mall that houses the bank branch. The bank staff was unaware of the presence of the armed escorts until after the arrest and detention of Kashoma and his co-accused.
Kashoma is an account holder with the bank and was duly issued with a cheque book which he made out and presented for payment at the bank’s branch. Prior to that, he informed the bank of an impending transfer of monies to his account(s) and the bank officials informed him accordingly when the account(s) were credited. The bank has not formally complained of loss of the money credited to Kashoma’s accounts.
In view of the definition of the offences of robbery and aggravated robbery under the Penal Code Act and the facts of the case, the matter begs the question ” Where is the robbery or aggravated robbery that Kashoma and his co-accused are alleged to have committed?
Clearly, the office of the DPP is guilty not just of unrestrained misuse of its authority and exercise of power but also of blatantly abusing the due process of our criminal justice and the law.
Rujumbura MP Jim Muhwezi has remotely been associated to the alleged crime by the fact that his personal driver and guard were waiting for Kashoma in the vehicles parked in the basement of the shopping mall. He has explained himself at length and has also admitted speaking to Kashoma moments before his arrest. The Police are absolutely justified in inviting him to explain a few issues but there seems to be no nexus between Muhwezi and the alleged offence.
He was summoned to the Criminal Investigations Department and interrogated. He was formally charged with aggravated robbery and the file submitted to the DPP for sanctioning. At the time, DPP Richard Buteera was out of the country and so his deputy Amos Ngolobe had the unenviable task of sanctioning the charge. He ‘declined’ to do so and waited for his superior. Buteera has followed suit and declined to sanction the charge against Muhwezi on the grounds of insufficient evidence. Both Buteera and Ngolobe are absolutely correct on that one.
The police, for reasons yet unknown had essentially ignored the evidence. To go after Muhwezi in the manner that has so far been exhibited suggests an uncanny detachment from the real facts of the case to other unrelated matters. To accuse Kashoma of terrorism, aggravated robbery is the height of abuse of due process. Charging both on such flimsy, unsubstantiated and extremely weak circumstantial ‘evidence’ is tragic.
Clearly, Kayihura is playing politics and setting a dangerous precedent on the use of police to fight political vendettas. The actions of the DPP in this case have been astonishingly irrational and discriminatory. In spite of the scantiness of the evidence linking them to the alleged crime, the media and the police have grievously damaged the names of Kashoma and and his co-accused, and Muhwezi.
An outsider may well wonder if the DPP routinely lets politics influence its decisions in this way. What this case teaches all of us is that the DPP is not, as stipulated in the Constitution as ‘independent’ as it should be; it teaches us that DPP can be far more politically inclined to make certain decisions than people realize.
The silence of Uganda Law Society (ULS) in this case has been loud. Because many lawyers individually may not be in position to speak about this, (although privately they all are wondering how DPP could sanction that charge), it is the duty of ULS to speak out against such excesses.
Finally, the media have turned themselves into the spokespersons of the police, naively and ignorantly reproducing police accusation without doing basic things like cross checking the claims of Kayihura and the police. We all must remember that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere and injustice to anyone is ultimately injustice to all because that injustice soon becomes the standard. Bad things as they say triumph when good people do and say nothing.
-The author requested that their name be withheld ” Editor.