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Michael Ezra

By Independent Investigations

His dealings with Museveni, Mbabazi, ESO

America puts pressure on Uganda over tycoon

On Friday Nov. 5, the Army Council convened for an unusual meeting. On top on the agenda was the behaviour of civil security agencies especially the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) and the External Security Organisation (ESO) and the deployment of UPDF soldiers attached to them. The incident was triggered by events involving the mysterious and flamboyant Kampala tycoon, Michael Ezra Mulyoowa.

Earlier, on Oct.19, operatives from the Uganda Police’s Rapid Response Unit (RRU) and the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) raided Ezra’s offices and residence in Kololo, Kampala. The residence is right next to the offices of the Joint Anti-Terrorism Taskforce (JATT).

The police did not catch Ezra. However, they arrested a man called Kenneth Bikorwomuhangi. Upon interrogation, they found that Bikorwomuhangi is a serving soldier in the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF) at the rank of a private.

How did one of Ezra’s personal and supposedly ‘private’ guards come to be a serving soldier in the Ugandan army? According to police investigations, Ezra had three, not one, serving UPDF soldiers officially provided to him by ESO to form his bodyguard, guard his private residence, and to take care of his personal security. Intrigued, the police picked this lead and began a deeper investigation.

Several police sources said the police are deeply angered and demoralised that agencies that should be partners in fighting crime have turned partners in the crimes.

Sources say that police were troubled to learn that Michael Ezra is picked as a VIP from the tarmac at Entebbe Airport by security whenever he returns from his numerous travels abroad, he does not line up to clear through the Immigration as his passport is handled by security officials at the airport and goes through the VIP lounge which he is not officially entitled to use.

Security operatives and whole agencies have become captives of easy money and this has meant that criminals could pay them off for any purpose. Sources say that many security operatives sell their services to private criminal gangs for little money. A western embassy official revealed to The Independent that you can buy top Ugandan intelligence for as little as US$150.

Shortly after the 7/11 bombings in Kampala, The Observer, reported that one of the most wanted planners of the attacks was aided out of the country by a JATT operative for a paltry  Shs5 million.

According to the police sources, Ezra is believed to have escaped to Kenya through Kapchorwa about two days after the raid on his residence. Police believe the escape was aided by security operatives from another agency.

Consequently, the hunt for Ezra was losing steam because, according to sources, the police have ‘taken their foot off the pedal’ after realising that Ezra was all the while protected by top security gurus in the country and enjoyed a VIP status that almost granted him immunity to prosecution.

On the day of the Nov. 5 meeting, therefore, two events that came to be linked to it happened in Kiboga. On the same day the Army Council convened to discuss misconduct of civilian agencies, police arrested the Aide De Camp (ADC) to former ISO chief Dr Amos Mukumbi. The ADC, Corporal Adamson Muhoozi and two others were arrested in Kiboga on suspicion of being in a conspiracy to commit murder.

In an even more disturbing and serious development, police arrested a one Corporal Griffin Rubihirwa alias Katipu. According to sources inside police and the security agencies, Rubihirwa is an aide to Gen. David Tinyefuza, the co-ordinator of intelligence services.

Rubihirwa was arrested in Bushenyi on Saturday Nov. 6, a day after the Army Council meeting, for the alleged murder of former Principal of Bushenyi Technical College, Dan Ampaire. According to police sources, Rubihirwa has confessed to the murder and admitted that he and others frequently engaged in criminal activities.

While Tinyefuza is not named or in any way implicated in the crime, it is disturbing that an aide to the overall co-ordinator of Intelligence Services can commit such a gruesome crime and confess to being involved in many other crimes under the very nose of the man co-ordinating the country’s intelligence services. It is a serious blot on the competence of the man and a damning indictment of the agencies he oversees. It has taken an ill-equipped under-funded police to apprehend the rogue soldier.

The Nov. 5 Army Council meeting, therefore, came against the backdrop of growing intense rivalry between Tinyefuza and the Chief of Military Intelligence Brig. James Mugira on the one hand and the Inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura, on the other.

Sources say that Kayihura feels a sense of disgust at the two for undermining his role, especially in conducting investigations into this year’s terrorist attacks in Kampala. With this in mind, it is possible that police may follow the murder of Ampaire with greater vigour and resources.

When the police later raided Ezra’s offices in Nakasero, they uncovered, among many things, 10 pairs of army uniforms, 01 Sub-Machine Gun (SMG) and 03 magazines fully loaded with ammunition. They also discovered that deployed to take care of Ezra’s security alongside Bikorwomuhangi were Privates Sam Namasahe and Ronald Gamasanga ‘ all serving soldiers of the UPDF and attached to ESO. Namasahe and Gamasanga escaped arrest by fleeing the premises shortly before the team of operatives from the SIU and RRU cordoned off the office complex. It seems they had been tipped off about the raid at his home in Kololo.

However, the police established that the machine gun retrieved was not officially registered with the army or ESO or any other security organisation. It was essentially an illegal weapon. More than that, police suspect that there could have been other illegal arms at the residence which Namasahe and Gamasanga ran away with.

Bikorwomuhangi was detained at RRU headquarters in Kireka, a Kampala suburb. Sources close to the investigations told The Independent that they approached the Director General (DG) of ESO, Lt. Robert Masolo, and asked him about the arrested soldier. Masolo allegedly denied knowing Bikorwomuhangi or that he was attached to the agency. The denial was contrary to what the soldier had told the police during interrogations. Police were not satisfied.

According to sources privy to the investigation, Bikorwomuhangi told police interrogators that he was deployed by his bosses at ESO and that he is from the UPDF First Division but attached to the agency. He was deployed together with the other two soldiers and according to him the instructions were that one of them should always move with Ezra as the other two guarded the residence. They interchanged the roles at all times.

The Independent has also learned from sources inside ESO that Ezra was paying each of the three soldiers a monthly allowance of Shs300,000 in addition to their official salaries.

A private in UPDF officially earns Shs270,000. The source also revealed that Ezra pays ESO Shs7 million per month for unexplained reasons and no receipts are issued for these payments. The money has never been accounted for and it remains unclear to whom it was paid and for what purpose.

Since he has had these guards for over a decade now, Ezra should have paid over Shs1 billion to ESO.

The Independent has also learned from a reliable source that Ezra’s guards from ESO were directly answerable to a legal officer at the agency called Daniel Bagorogoza. Sources say that Ezra’s ‘love affair’ with ESO is not new and seems to have been inherited by Masolo. Ezra shot to prominence during the reign of David Pulkol as DG at ESO. It is Pulkol, now a campaign manager for opposition president candidate Olara Otunnu of the Uganda Peoples Congress, who facilitated the issuing of Ezra’s diplomatic passport.

When contacted, Ezra denied paying money to ESO for security. However, he confirmed having soldiers attached to ESO guarding him for over a decade. He said his guards were answerable to the person in charge of administration and personnel, not Bagorogoza.

‘I have these guards because of the nature and sensitivity of what I have done for the government for many years,’ he said, ‘What I have done for Uganda but is not written in the media can be ascertained (sic) by President Yoweri Museveni himself. My security, my diplomatic passport, and so on were all given to me based on my work for the government of Uganda and with the full knowledge and backing of the President. The president personally guaranteed my security. So there is no illegality in all this.’

‘Secondly,’ Ezra went on, ‘By the nature of my training and the work I do, I do not make mistakes. The President can ascertain (sic) this. But the police and many other people do not know my work for the government of Uganda. That is why they have made many mistakes and created drama around my arrest. There was no need for drama. Masolo inherited my relationship with ESO and he could not change it. I only work with security chiefs on the instructions of the President. If the President has not directed me or any security chief to work with me, we don’t work together.’

The denial of Bikorwomuhangi by Masolo, attracted interest from the Special Investigation Branch (SIB) of the Military Police. SIB investigated the matter and established that in fact Bikorwomuhangi is a serving soldier in the UPDF and his service number is RA190486. He is from the 1st Division of the UPDF and is among the 46 soldiers seconded and attached to ESO since May 2009 after the summary and unexplained ‘redeployment’ of the previous group of soldiers attached to the same security agency.

The Independent has learnt that the ‘redeployment’ was a result of an intense and bitter leadership wrangle that has rocked the agency since May 2009 when the Deputy Director General of ESO, Emmy Allio publicly accused his boss, Masolo, of using the soldiers to harass him with the intention to kill him. It is said that President Museveni personally intervened and caused the withdrawal of the soldiers previously attached to the agency.

Following the discovery by the SIB, the Joint Chief of Staff of the UPDF, Maj. Gen. Robert Rusoke picked interest in the investigation and personally drove to RRU in Kireka to meet Bikorwomuhangi. At Kireka, Rusoke met and interrogated the soldier for close to two hours. Rusoke is said to have then directed the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) to widen the investigation to include the deployment of soldiers by civilian intelligence agencies like ESO and its sister agency, ISO.

When contacted, Rusoke denied going to Kireka but said: ‘The matter was brought to my attention and I summoned the police officers involved in the investigations and met with them alongside the Deputy Chief of Military Intelligence. I then directed CMI to investigate and find out whether this person is a serving UPDF officer. I did this because there is no one with authority to give Ezra a soldier. I am personally interested to know how army officers can be deployed to provide personal/private security to civilians without the authority of the army.’

The CMI chief, Brig. James Mugira, told The Independent that all these security organisations have some soldiers attached to them ‘ ‘the way we attach to royals like the Kabaka or the King of Toro’. However, he added, he had not personally followed the matter closely although he had been briefed about it.

Michael Ezra has been a subject of intense speculation in the Ugandan media.

Ezra’s troubles with security appear to have deepened on October 7 when police in Kampala declared him a wanted man. He was accused of disobeying police summons after Frank Katusiime, a former chairman of the Uganda Electricity Transmission Ltd and owner of the defunct computer firm, Rank Consult, accused him of issuing him two cheques worth Shs2 billion that bounced. Katusiime  is a close friend of the powerful Security minister Amama Mbabazi.

Sources told The Independent that Ezra used to enjoy a ‘close’ relationship with Mbabazi, who is also the Secretary General of the ruling NRM. They have travelled with their families for holidays together. Police suspect that the deployment of serving army officers to guard Ezra could also have been partly because Mbabazi either condoned it or turned a blind eye to it. Sources further say that Ezra recently fell out with Mbabazi ‘ a factor that may explain his loss of immunity and hence the confidence of the police to pursue him.

Insiders told The Independent that the hunt for Ezra only intensified after the United States Treasury Department issued a diplomatic request to the Uganda Government to have him apprehended and questioned in relation to the source and authenticity of the US Dollars he displayed to the press at a Kampala hotel. On Sept.2, Ezra showed journalists bundles of what he said was US$3 million worth of American currency notes. The concern by the US Treasury Department, The Independent has learned is heightened by the increase in circulation of counterfeit US Dollars in the East African Region especially Somalia.

The Independent has learnt that the entry of the American state agency could be the reason behind the failure of Ezra’s allies in security to protect him.

He has been an enigma since he shot into limelight with his unexplained and seemingly unrestrained spending sprees and inexhaustible cash reserves.

He has issued open cheques and publicly showed acts of philanthropy especially in sports. He threatened to buy Leeds Football Club in England for 60 million British pounds and bought a US$250,000 Mont Blanc watch from the Emirates Airlines, beating hundreds of bidders from all over the world.

Ezra, however, is as difficult to understand as it is to understand the very source of his money and the activities that catapulted him to national and international prominence. He will ‘fail’ or ‘refuse’ to pay a ‘small’ debt of US$ 50,000 but publicly display millions of dollars in a show of ‘financial might’. He may issue a bounced cheque of US$70,000 while at the same time fly friends in a private luxury jet to expensive holiday destinations. Among the beneficiaries of his patronage are some of Uganda’s top political and security officials whose holidays abroad ‘ in five-star hotels, luxury private-jet travel and expensive shopping he has paid for.

A reliable source present at the Nov. 5 meeting confirmed to The Independent that the Army Council resolved that with immediate effect, all soldiers be withdrawn from the civil security agencies and replaced with police.

They also resolved that no civil security agency should be permitted to deploy soldiers except where the head of the agency is above the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel in the army.

Presently, both Masolo and his counterpart at ISO, Ronald Balya are Lieutenants and therefore far below the rank of Lieutenant Colonel permitted to have or deploy soldiers at a civilian security agency.

Emmy Allio, a former investigative journalist with the government-controlled New Vision newspaper and a lawyer, is a civilian. ISO has no designated Deputy DG. The leadership wrangles at ESO remain unresolved and the alleged attempted murder of Allio is still being investigated by police. Allio quit his office at ESO headquarters since May 2009 and today operates from a private office in Kampala. It remains to be seen how the new security regulations will affect Ezra.

In the last immediate issue of The Independent, a prolific Ugandan political commentator and social critic ‘ Timothy Kalyegira described Uganda as a ‘Gangster’s Paradise’. What an appropriate title given the kind of buccaneering taking place among security agencies

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