Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The file of three people appealing their conviction for causing the government a financial loss of Shillings 24.7billion meant to upgrade the Katosi road has been returned to the Court of Appeal registrar for reallocation.
The file has been returned by a three-member panel of the Court of Appeal Justices comprised of Lady Justice Elizabeth Musoke, Catherine Bamugemereire, and Steven Musota after one of the convicts, Joe Semugooma, asked Bamugemereire to step aside from hearing the appeal. This was on grounds that Justice Bamugemereire had previously chaired a commission of inquiry into Uganda National Roads Authority affairs and the Katosi scam was among the issues to inquire into.
As such, Semugooma’s lawyer William Were told the court that it wouldn’t be fair for his client if Lady Justice Bamugemereire remains on the panel to hear his appeal.
Accordingly, Lady Justice Elizabeth Musoke who was heading the panel ordered for the file to be taken back to the registrar with orders that it be reallocated to a new panel and fixed for hearing as soon as possible.
The appeal stems from an August 2018 decision by the then Anti Corruption Court Judge, Lawrence Gidudu who sentenced Semugooma, the former Finance Director in UNRA, and the accountant Wilberforce Ssenjako, to a jail term of five years after finding them guilty of causing government a financial loss of 24.7 billion shillings meant to upgrade the Katosi road in Mukono district.
The group was jointly convicted with businessman Apollo Senkeeto also known as Mark Kalyesubula, who was the Country director of a non existent firm Eutaw Construction Company, who was individually handed a ten year jail term which he is equally appealing against.
The court records show that UNRA had signed a contract with Eutaw on November 15, 2013, to upgrade the Mukono-Kyetume-Katosi road and in line with the agreement, UNRA paid 24.7 billion shillings in advance on Senkeeto’s account on behalf of the fictitious company which claimed that it was related to the one in the United States of America whereas not.
Accordingly, money was paid in Housing Finance bank and it is the same account that Senkeeto managed.
After getting the advance payment, the records further show that Eutaw being a sham company, then subcontracted a Chinese company, CICO in July 2014 to tarmac the road.
In the circumstances, UNRA discovered that it had been duped by Senkeeto to sign a contract with a non-existing construction firm and at that time, the sub-contractor had done works estimated to be at three percent.
As a result, the group was accordingly charged and convicted on the said charges for having conspired to commit the crimes in question.
But not happy with the decision to convict them, the convicts appealed against the decision in the Court of Appeal in separate appeals which were later consolidated and were fixed for hearing today.
Through their lawyers led by Senior Counsel Peter Mulira, they argued that the learned trial Judge of the Anti Corruption Court erred in law and fact when he failed to evaluate the evidence on record as a whole thereby failing to resolve glaring contradictions in the Appellants’ favor indicating that money had been paid to CICO by Eutaw.
They add that the learned trial judge erred in law and fact when he held that money paid into a company’s account couldn’t be stolen from the government of Uganda by the convicts.
“The learned trial judge erred in law and fact when he held that the Appellant stole the said sum when he at the same time found that UNRA did not suffer any financial loss and acquitted 4 of the other accused in the same case on grounds of no financial loss,” reads in part an appeal by Senkeeto.
The convicts were initially charged together with former minister for works Abraham Byandala, former UNRA director Bernardo Kimeze, and former UNRA legal counsel Marvin Baryaruha, former Housing Finance bank staff Isaac Mugote, who were all acquitted for lack of sufficient evidence to prove that they were part of the scam.
In November 2020, the then Commercial Court Judge Henry Peter Adonyo ordered Senkeeto together with five Chinese including their companies to refund to UNRA 18.7 billion shillings as part of the money that had not been spent in the Katosi road construction.
Senkeeto has since appealed against this decision as well.
All the convicts are out on bail and Senkeeto, a resident in the United States of America wanted to be given his passport to travel and go back to be with his family this coming Christmas.
He was however advised to put in a formal application.