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OPM officials plead not guilty to 24 fresh charges

The accused OPM officials appearing before the Anti Corruption Court in Kampala on Tuesday. Courtesy photo

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Four officials from the Office of the Prime Minister- OPM have denied fresh 24 charges slapped against them.

The officials who include the Permanent Secretary Christine Guwatudde Kintu, Accountant Joel Wanjala, Assistant Commissioner for Procurement Fred Lutimba and Commissioner for Disaster Management Martin Owor face 12 counts related to abuse of office and 12 others on false accounting.

On Tuesday, they appeared before the Anti-corruption court presided over by the Chief Magistrate Sarah Namusobya Mutebi and denied the charges.

The prosecution alleges that the accused persons did acts prejudicial to their employer when they prepared and issued false entries in award letters to several companies to supply COVID-19 relief items such as maize and milk worth more than 32 billion Shillings in total disregard of the procurement procedures.

The companies that were contracted between March 31 and April 8, 2020, include Aponye Uganda Limited which was given 19 billion Shillings to supply several kilograms of maize each at Shs 3,000, Mandela Millers Limited which was given Shs 9 billion and Afro Kai Limited which was paid Shs 2 billion.

The other companies include Mehta Group C/o SCOUL was given Shs 900 million, Operation Wealth Creation which was paid Shs 450 million, Pearl Dairy Farmers Limited with a bill of Shs 525 million, Nmacks Investments Limited Shs 225 million and Global Center Limited which was given Shs 240 million.

It is also alleged that the accused persons used their offices to defraud government after making false entries of the award letters to the companies to supply relief items purporting that the money had been allocated by the OPM contracts committee which was false.

Before this, the defence lawyers led by McDusman Kabega objected to the plea taking saying that the charges against them were defective. The lawyers added that the offences had been written in a manner that doesn’t clearly show the offences that the accused persons had committed.

However, the State Attorney James Khauka opposed to the request saying that the objection by the defence doesn’t have merit because the offences had properly been drafted in as far as the Magistrates Court Act is concerned.

The Chief Magistrate later had to take a break of about an hour to enable her to write her ruling in which she decided that it would be premature to object to plea taking before the hearing commences.

She later ordered the accused persons to take a plea in which they denied the offences against them before asking to be released on bail.

On bail, the court heard that the accused persons had previously been granted bail by Buganda Road Court on related offences. The defence thus asked the court to reinstate it arguing that they still had the sureties that they had presented preciously who included spouses and relatives of the accused persons.

But the State Attorney Khauka opposed this and prayed for severe conditions citing that the anti-corruption court was now dealing with a case involving about 34 billion shillings unlike at Buganda Road Court where they were dealing with a case of 4 billion shillings.

But in her ruling on bail, the Magistrate reinstated the three million shillings’ cash bail for the accused persons as earlier directed by the Buganda Road Court.  She added however that they will now deposit their passports with the Anti-corruption court and also land titles registered in their names.

The case has been adjourned to August 27 for mention.

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