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Kazinda lands another victory in court of appeal

Kazinda talking with his lawyer

Kampala, Uganda |  THE INDEPENDENT | The Appellant Court has quashed the conviction of Geoffrey Kazinda, the former Principal Accountant in the Office of the Prime Minister-OPM for embezzlement and conspiracy to defraud government Shillings 316.8 million.

The decision stems from an appeal filed by Kazinda, Shamim Masembe and Hussein Katumwa, the proprietor and Manager Total Ntinda Service Station respectively in 2017 challenging their conviction for defrauding government Shillings 316.8 million worth of fuel drawn by non-existent OPM vehicles that were meant to deliver  relief to disaster victims.

Masembe and Katumwa were sentenced to a fine of Shillings One Million and one year imprisonment while Kazinda whom the trial judge, Lawrence Gidudu called the architect of the conspiracy was sentenced to five year’s imprisonment on two charges of embezzlement and conspiracy to defraud.

However, in the appeal the convicts among other things argued that the trial judge erred in law and fact by convicting them on embezzlement whereas the facts of prosecution were incompatible with the case, according to the indictment and summary of the case.

The three member panel of the Appellant Court comprising Justices Elizabeth Musoke, Stephen Musota and Night Percy Tuhaise, unanimously concurred with the appellants noting that they were wrongly convicted and therefore set aside their sentences.

“The conviction of the first appellant (Kazinda) of offences of embezzlement and conspiracy to defraud is quashed and the sentence is set aside,” the justices ordered. They ordered the appellants be set free forthwith unless they have other lawful charges.

The panel re-examined and questioned the merits of the submissions of the then OPM Permanent Secretary, Puis Bigirimana, who as a witness denied having approved fuel payments in the Integrated Finance Management System and pinned Kazinda for fraudulently approving the payments.

“We disagree with the learned trial judge, PW7 (Bigirmana) could not have responded to the query of the Auditor General regarding fuel, which he didn’t authorize…from evidence on record, it is quite clear that the fuel station was supplying fuel on credit and the queried payment is said to have accumulated over time,” the judgment reads in part.

The justices further noted that the said fuel cash had 167 orders and invoices signed by six drivers but prosecution only presented one driver who accounted for 21 orders and invoices.

“Out of the six drivers only PW3 testified and his testimony was for only 21 orders and invoices which is only 13 percent of the total accountability…We are of the considered view that this ingredient of the offence of embezzlement was not proved beyond reasonable doubt,” the justices argued.

Similarly, they noted that prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Masembe and Katumwa had conspired to defraud the OPM. From the evidence on record, the justice found that the said Shillings 316.8 million had been received as payment for a debt that had accumulated over time. 

The judgment comes handy for Kazinda who is still locked up in Luzira prisons. This is his third victory from various appeals challenging his conviction. Last year, the Court of Appeal acquitted Kazinda on charges of abuse of office and forgery, which had earned him 5 years and 2 years respectively in jail. But the acquittal came long after he had completed serving the sentence.

Kazinda landed into problems in 2012 when he was charged on the several offenses including but not limited to constructive possession of financial instruments, forging receipts and invoices, false accounting, making fraudulent payments, conspiracy to secure money outside authorized disbursement procedures and living a standard of life beyond his known source of income.

His trial started in 2012. He has since been indicted in various courts. On Friday, the Constitutional court delivered another judgment permanently staying all proceedings in pending criminal cases against Kazinda at the anti-corruption court.

The same court also prohibited the state from using any process of any court to initiate and prosecute him for any offences similar in character with those found on the same facts in connection with his former employment at the OPM.

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