Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Joan Aciro, the Chief Magistrate of the Anti-Corruption Court, has granted the prosecution a final opportunity to call additional witnesses in the Ndeeba Church demolition case. Failure to do so will result in the closure of their submission.
The latest development took place on Friday when the scheduled hearing for the state witnesses flopped with prosecution informing court that there was no attorney assigned to the case file, and as a result, requested an adjournment.
Gloria Inzukulu, who represented the state, informed the court that the attorney previously assigned to the case file had been transferred and as a result, they requested an adjournment. Inzukulu further explained that they were waiting for the file to be allocated to a new attorney who would also require some time to study it before proceeding.
However, the defense lawyers strongly opposed her request, accusing the prosecution of abusing the court process by unnecessarily prolonging the case to the detriment of the accused person’s right to a speedy trial.
Max Mutabingwa, one of the defense lawyers, pointed out to the court that for the past three years, the state has been using delaying tactics to prolong the hearing and eventual conclusion of the case.
“This is not fair at all, since they have already presented five witnesses so far. It seems they don’t have more witnesses or they are no longer enthusiastic to prosecute the matter. They should be forced to close their case,” Mutabingwa noted.
The lawyer mentioned that on January 31st, the case hearing was unsuccessful due to the news that the Chief State Attorney who was handling the case, Noah Kunya, had been transferred and the file was handed over to Adams Waiswa.
“On that day, while in court, Adams mentioned that he could not proceed with the hearing as he had just received the file on the same day,”he added. “As a result, the court adjourned the matter to a later date, which is now one and a half months later. However during this period, the file was left without an attorney, and prosecution didn’t communicate this to court, which is an abuse of court process and shouldn’t be ignored.”
Another defense lawyer, Ambrose Tebyasa, also reminded the court that as the state continues to prolong the hearing process, it should keep in mind that the accused individuals have no source of income. Many of them are on interdiction, and even Dodoviko Mwanje’s business is affected due to the prolonged court process.
“The case is now three years old, and if the state was serious about it, it would have been disposed of already. I fully support my learned friend’s arguments, and I pray that the court forces the state to close their case,” he said.
The case in question was transferred from Makindye to the Anti-Corruption Court in Kampala on December 9, 2020. Throughout 2021, the prosecution repeatedly noted that they were still investigating. After the investigation was completed, the case faced further adjournments as the defense insisted on pre-trial disclosure. At one point, the presiding magistrate threatened to dismiss the case for want of prosecution.
During the last court appearance, the magistrate noted that the delays in the case have been primarily caused by the state, hindering progress of the proceedings. For instance, she pointed out that although the court had allotted a full day for hearing witness testimonies, the prosecution has over time opted to present only one witness per day.
She also observed that Kunya’s transfer had happened long before the scheduled hearing date, but a new attorney surprised the court by saying that he had just been given the file that day and didn’t know its contents.
“The same reason is being given today, and it is worse because there is no one in charge of the file, and we don’t know if there will be someone in charge of the file at the next hearing,” she noted.
Based on this background, the magistrate who first acknowledged the reason given by the prosecution for the adjournment emphasized that at the next hearing of this case, the state must be ready to proceed. If they are not, they will be asked to close their case.
“Today they have given a valid reason for the adjournment to ensure that prosecution allocates the file and give whoever will have the file time to be brought to speed, but this is the last time adjournment net time they will have no other reason but to close,” she ruled before adjourning the matter to May 19 this year.
Mwanje and several others, including five police officers, a Gombolola Internal Security Officer, and two employees of the Kampala Capital City Authority, were arrested in August of the previous year in connection with the demolition of St. Peter’s Church during a land dispute involving Mwanje, members of the Buganda Royal Family, and church leaders.
According to court records, Mwanje is accused of theft of church properties worth 850 million Shillings, while the six police officers and the GISO are accused of abuse of power, corruption, conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor, and disobedience of lawful orders.
So far, four witnesses have been brought by the prosecution to implicate the accused in the crimes. Most of these witnesses are from the Kampala Capital City Authority.
In addition to these criminal charges, Mwanje is also facing another civil case regarding the ownership of the land that houses the Church. The Principal Judge, Dr. Flavian Zeija, overturned a judgement that was based on the sale of the disputed land to Mwanje in favour of the princess’ family, and ordered a retrial of the case.