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New breed of conmen in town

By John Njoroge

Your next caller could be a fraudster

Sometime in August, operatives attached to the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) arrested one of Uganda’s biggest fraudsters ever.  The 21-year-old Michael Mugarura had for over three years been impersonating President Yoweri Museveni by imitating his voice. He would use a caller ID withheld number to call government officials and parastatal heads and, in his Museveni voice  instruct them to do several things including dispersing funds in cash to unknown persons and allocated jobs.

In his own confession to CMI, Mugarura admitted helping more than 25 people to get high level jobs in various government organisations. These people would in return pay him.

Attempts to get the names of these organisations have been fruitless as CMI is keeping the names secret as investigations continue in an attempt to apprehend Mugaruras accomplices and the job beneficiaries.

On October 31, police arrested one Sarah Namukasa. For six months Namukasa was under investigations for obtaining over Shs 45 million by false pretence. She allegedly promised to sell fish ponds through a company, Buganda Fish Group, which she told her victims she co-owned and with the queen of Buganda, Nabagereka Sylvia Nagginda. Namukasa was so calculative that she often placed radio advertisements in the Buganda Kingdom radio station CBS.

On several occasions, Namukasa conducted seminars somewhere along Mengo Hill Road in the name of the queen of Buganda and confidently used her real identity making her appear all the more genuine. Those interested in buying fish ponds at the said Shs 1.5 million each were often treated to guided tours of model fish ponds in genuine fish farms in the Ndeeba area. Namukasa had an office and 10 staff members. It is believed that more than 1,000 people registered with her, each paying a non-refundable registration fee of Shs 50,000. More than half this number paid Namukasa’s company deposits to purchase these ponds.  Prior to her arrest, Namukasa had gone underground abandoning her staff and office.

On November 2, Trade and Industry Minister Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire appeared before Chief Magistrate Deo Ssejjemba at the Nakawa Magistrates Court to give testimony in a case of conspiracy to commit a felony and obtain goods by false pretence. Apparently on June 18,  three conmen  Moses Kasagga, Sam Wampande and Steven Byabakama  forged signature and duped Nakumatt Supermarket where they obtained goods worth Shs 25,177,600.

Police investigations later revealed that Byabakama and Kasagga had planned and masterminded the theft from their hideout in Kyebando, a Kampala Suburb where some of the goods were found. The goons smartly walked into the supermarket, presented the cheque and were even assisted in shopping. Prior to this, they on several occasions had telephone contact with the supermarket manager. It only dawned on the supermarket authorities that they had been duped when the cheque bounced. On contacting the minister, he had no idea about any Shs 25million transaction with Nakumatt.

In his testimony, Gen. Otafiire told the court, I do not know any of those people in the dock. I have never dealt with anybody on things concerning the hotel business because I dont have a hotel or even a kiosk in Mbarara and anywhere in the world.

On the same day, a combined effort of police and the military officers netted a State House impersonator. He was arrested as he attempted to extort money from a Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) official whom he had earlier approached under the guise that he was part of a team of investigators commissioned by President Museveni to investigate UNRA officials over corruption.

On November 3, Corporal Moshen Ssenyonga, Private Tony Kamali Koli and George Kakande Gadafi were arrested after they were identified as the kidnappers who tortured and extorted Shs 25million from David Senfuka, a Kampala businessman three weeks earlier. A fourth suspect, identified as Private Ashraf Mugisha, is still on the run. The former director of Economic Monitoring at ISO, Teddy Sezi Cheeye, is also under investigations over the circumstances surrounding his involvement in the kidnap and extortion.

After extorting and torturing Senfuka, he was driven and dropped at the parking lot of Cheeye’s office. Cheeye reportedly locked him in his vehicle, a Toyota Prado, and telephoned the RRU head offices to pick Senfuka. The victim was seated in his car when police arrived. Corporal Ssenyonga is said to still be in active service while Kakande and Kamali had been discharged from the army over robbery. According to Senfuka, the thugs were in constant telephone contact with someone before he was dumped at Cheeye’s office. In his statement to police, Senfuka said that they had asked for US$2million before settling for the Shs25million.

The incidents are numerous and increasing daily. According to Uganda Police statistics, at least five people were conned of big sums of money in Kampala alone. On average, a total of 25 cases involving con-artists are reported every month spread over different police stations in the city. These ‘Bafeere’ as they are commonly known in Luganda, develop new tactics daily to lure unsuspecting people with an aim of either blackmailing them or duping them out of their hard earned cash in the pretext of offering services, selling land, precious metals, etc.

They go to great extents to improve their personal image and general public opinion by investing heavily in executive office spaces in reputable buildings in the city, expensive clothing, shoes, jewelry, mobile phones. And that is not all; a good number of them live in the posh suburbs of Kampala. The Majority of them are well educated people who either at one time worked for reputable companies in Uganda or are actually still working in these companies.

Surprisingly the web now extends even further to security agencies, police officers, journalists and revenue collection officials. Police recently arrested a former American Embassy employee and her accomplice who for over 18 months had been earning a living out of giving fake American Visas. They had a luxurious office in the centre of town; the company was properly registered with legitimately employed staff.

The duo who called themselves agents of the American Embassy would say they acted as connector parties between the embassy and visa seeking persons. In the background, they had a sophisticated network of people who produced expertly crafted fake American visas. Many Ugandans actually have travelled to the USA with these visas and made it back. Not until one lady, who had travelled for medical reasons failed to get treatment and was deported back to Uganda, did the duo disappear abandoning their office. A large scale manhunt and coordinated efforts with telecom companies made it possible to track and arrest the two.

An exclusive interview with one of Uganda’s richest businessmen revealed the ugly reality. On the condition of anonymity, this businessman intimated to The Independent how on several occasions he has been a target of con-artist working in security circles and in the media. “I have always asked myself the question why me. I have been approached by all sorts of fraudsters; security agents, policemen and now they are even using a journalist who says they are investigating  me. They have information that I am doing illegal things and want me to pay them to keep quiet. I have spoken to several security chiefs who have been very helpful. He added that although he did not understand why he was a target, some of his partners have fallen prey to these goons. Some come to you under the umbrella of their organizations, others just impersonate. One of my partners almost parted with money just to avoid a scandal, not that the information was true.

Another foreign businessman was not too lucky. As far back as 2007 he was forced to part with over US$11,000 to a senior security official and Shs 8 million to a journalist. To save face and image I had to, he told this reporter. Some of the information they had was true while the rest was totally fabricated. I didnt know what to do.

The revelations that even journalists are now part of the Bafeere racket is disturbing but not shocking. Unethical journalists have been known to call story subjects with the intention to blackmail them. In many instances, they actually succeed and the victims never to report the incidences for fear that an investigation could further lead more extortion.

We are investigating some security operatives and civilians for being Bafeere (con-artist), the Police spokesperson Judith Nabakoba told The Independent, adding, we have arrested several and need the public to help police and bring forth evidence. They know some of these people but they keep quiet because of fear.

Even as the police intensify their efforts, a new group of vulnerable people remain at the mercy of these con-artist; suspects in corruption, embezzlement and fraud cases. It has emerged that this group is constantly extorted by genuine investigators and impersonators. Because of fear, they have been known to comply to the demands of extortionist. Even though the law says innocent until proven guilty, the Bafeere have since found greener pastures stealing from the thieves

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