Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | City Hall Magistrate Worship Beatrice Khainza has acquitted all the five suspects accused of defrauding Canadian businessman Assi Soubhi Muhammad in a fake gold scam at Makerere University.
Court in its ruling on Thursday noted that the charges brought against the accused had glaring gaps, inconsistent and full of contradictions.
The five suspects Richard Kamugisha, Stella Kalungi Dindi, David Kironde, Yazidi Kabonge Wamala and Nasser Kibirige were arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit a felony, obtaining money by false pretence, criminal trespass, impersonation, and forgery and uttering out a false document.
The accused were arrested on January 10, 2018, from Makerere University Physical Chemistry laboratory while pretending to carry out another gold test. They were charged for pretending to sell Soubhi Muhammad seven kilograms of pure gold valued at USD 191,100 (700 million Shillings) which they did not have.
Court agreed that while the businessman lost money, he did not pay it to anyone among the accused. While the state had argued that US$8200 (approximately 30million shillings) was found in Richard Kamugisha’s house it did not prove that the serial numbers of the said money matched the serial numbers of the money paid by Soubhi Muhammad to the suspects.
On the case of impersonation, the suspects had been accused of masquerading as lab technicians of Makerere and video evidence tabled and viewed in court. Court however says none of the people in the video could be matched with the accused.
“The video was viewed by court. I had the occasion to view the video but I observed that none of the accused looked like the appeared in the video. It is illogical for court to conclude that any of them made a representation of those in the video. I therefore acquit all the accused on that count in this court,” Her worship Khainza ruled.
They were also accused of forgery where state-produced documents including an assay report and cash payment slip with the intent to defraud.
However, in her ruling, Khainza indicated that Richard Kamugisha who is accused of forgery and uttering out a false document had told court that whereas he was at Makerere University on January 10, 2018, he was not at the institution for the charge they are accused of, allegedly committed on November 25th 2017 and denied being the person recorded in the video.
“I agree with defence counsel that indeed the masked man could not be identified. Nonetheless, in my view, the man in the video appeared taller than A3 [Richard Kamugisha],” Her Worship Khainza said in her ruling.
Court also ruled that whereas the state’s handwriting expert had matched signatures of a receipt invoice acknowledging receipt of US$700 approximately 2.6 million shillings for lab test for the 7 kilos of gold bars with a signature for Nasser Kibirige, one of the suspects who acted as a lab technician, it was not sufficient enough to convict the accused as the document was updated.
“In my view, this is a case where indeed somebody lost money. It is also a case where court has observed that a set-up was made in anticipation of arresting the people who might have taken money from the complainant and the only way was to bring Stella Birungi into this business,” Magistrate rules.
“Unfortunately, the prosecution case is full of gaps, inconsistencies and contradictions. The accused persons denied being at Grand Imperial Hotel where the money was paid and Kamugisha tasked the investigating officer to present video footages of CCTV of his presence at Grand Imperial by the time Soubhi handed money to a one Tony whom the state failed to produce,” she added.
The magistrate also ruled that in addition to detaining the accused for 13 days contrary to the mandatory 48 hours corroborates torture and coercion of the accused by the law enforcers.
“On the evidence relied on by the prosecution, I find it unreliable regarding what happened on the 25th November 2017 thus weakening the prosecution case. Given the contradictions, there was need for more evidence to link each of the accused persons with the offences charged,” she ruled.
Humphrey Tumwesigye of Mujurizi Arinaitwe and Byamukama Advocates, counsel for the accused said he was happy.
Tumwesigye said he wants police to provide his clients properties including money, laptops, phones and other valuables that the state confiscated.
Soubhi said this was “truly a black day not just for me personally, but also for Uganda in general and for the system of justice in Uganda in particular.”
“On the personal front, I have had a large chunk of my life wasted in pursuit of this case, causing me great emotional distress, being kept away from my home and young family. I have even felt at times, that my personal safety was at risk. It has also caused great disruption for my business for more than 2 years and a huge financial loss nearing US$400,000 [about 1.4bn shillings], which will undoubtedly bankrupt me,” Soubhi says.
He says he had complete faith in the thoroughness of investigations carried out by the police, and in the fairness and impartiality of the judicial system. He appealed to President Museveni to intervene and allow him get back his money lost in the scam.
“Mr President: if anyone can address this plague of corruption in your beloved Uganda and the lack of justice for victims like me, it would be you Sir. You are my last hope sir, to find a resolution for my case and to help me to get back the huge losses I suffered as a result of being defrauded by a bunch of crooks in Uganda, aided and abetted by a corrupt justice system,” he appealed.