How soldiers stole State House money
Posted Sunday, November 24 2013 at 02:00
KAMPALA- When State House Comptroller Lucy Mbonye Nakyobe told Parliament on October 30 that six presidential guards accused of stealing about Shs700 million from the President’s Office had been convicted, it was the truth, but not the whole truth.
It is true the soldiers of the Special Forces Command, had been tried and convicted by the Unit Disciplinary Court at Kasenyi in Entebbe shortly after their arrest.
The Unit Disciplinary Court was chaired by Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba.
However, by the time Ms Mbonye testified before the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, the story had changed.
The accused soldiers had been put on fresh trial and released on bail by another military court. They are; Mr Mark Betunga, Moses Muhangi, Gideon Tumuhimbise, Daniel Okello and two others. They are accused of stealing the money from the State House safe at Okello House in Nakasero in 2011.
Sunday Monitor has learnt that the accused soldiers had challenged their trial and conviction by the Unit Disciplinary Court in the higher court, the General Court Martial. They contended that they had been convicted without being allowed to defend themselves and that the trial court had no jurisdiction to try them.
The court martial upheld their appeal. It ruled that the Unit Disciplinary Court had no jurisdiction to try a case of such magnitude and that it had irregularly convicted the accused without a fair hearing.
The General Court Martial referred the case to the Division Court Martial at Bombo for a retrial and the suspects were released on bail.
Apparently, the disciplinary court had convicted the soldiers before they arrived for trial. Upon arrival in the court at Kasenyi, they found a judgment had already been made and it was just read out to them.
Their defence lawyer, Capt Nasser Drago, who partially represented the accused in the appeal case, confirmed the retrial. “The appeal was heard, the accused won and the case was recalled for trial,” Capt Drago said.
The accused are still undergoing the retrial at the Division Court Martial at Bombo.
“The Division Court Martial in Bombo is still handling the case. It only failed to sit this week because the chairperson was away on special duties.” Maj Robert Ngabirano told this newspaper.
Plan and execution of the theft
In September 2011, a lot of money was withdrawn from Tropical Bank and taken to State House at Okello House in Nakasero. Sacks of cash were poured into a room that was guarded by four soldiers, with two other military guards manning the entrance.
At around that time, the guards started receiving daily allowances of Shs20,000.
A source close to State House told Sunday Monitor that top government and NRM officials and some ministers’ wives would frequently come to Okello House, load some sacks of cash onto their cars and drive away.
As more people frequently flocked to pick the cash bags, the guards’ daily allowance was increased to Shs50,000 for half day.
“There was a very strong smell of money at Okello House and with the high allowance, the guards got curious. One guard called Dan decided to peep through the ventilators. He saw sacks of money on the floor heaped up to near the ceiling,” a source said.
Struck by what he saw inside, the guard alerted his colleagues. The guards then made contact with an artisan in Kisenyi suburb to make for them a duplicate key to the cash room.
The artisan came to Okello House, examined the locks and went back to make the key. On the day the money was stolen, the guards called the expert key cutter. He arrived at 10pm, opened the door to the cash room and they entered and started helping themselves with the cash bags.
They opened the first sack which contained Pounds and they ignored it.
“We saw the notes had a face of a woman and we decided it would land us into problems so we decided to look for our own notes. We turned more sacks before falling on dollars but also we did not take,” one of the guards, is quoted to have told a source.
After turning over the sacks, they saw sacks of Shs20,000 and Shs50,000 notes. Each of them picked a number of sacks they could carry before inviting the two other guards at the entrance to come and also help themselves get rich.
As excitement grew, the key cutter was reportedly heard asking how much he should take. The guards told him to carry what he could.