KAMPALA- A mafia outfit has infiltrated Uganda’s security and intelligence agencies and use their elaborate networks to commit sophisticated crimes, including financial frauds in collusion with employees of banks, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), has said.
Gen Kale Kayihura said the cabal is so powerful and has informers at financial institutions, who provide them up-to-date information on clients with hefty cash on their bank accounts, and in security circles, which shield them.
“This is how mafias work. They have their people everywhere,” he said at a press conference yesterday, adding: “These conmen involve our security personnel. We have arrested some. They have infiltrated the police. They have infiltrated the military. They have infiltrated everywhere; that is why I call it mafia-like because that is how mafias work.”
Gen Kayihura is not the only high-profile government official in modern Uganda to say the country’s State apparatus and private sector is heavily infiltrated by mafia, but his public admission as the chief law enforcer is telling of the gravity of the problem.
In 2005, then vice president Gilbert Bukenya told this newspaper in an interview that he was being fought by a criminal network he likened to “mafia”.
Gen Kayihura, who just returned from a trip to Italy, told journalists at police headquarters in Naguru, a Kampala suburb, yesterday that the Ugandan cabal has unrestrained appetite for cash, making every bank customer a potential and vulnerable target “if we don’t fight this problem”.
“We should have given this warning much earlier, but I feel it is my responsibility to give this alert or warning to everybody because this problem is increasing,” he said, citing the possibility that money could easily be spirited away from customers’ bank accounts through electronic fraud.
“There have been cases of this kind,” he said. “We are faced with mafia-like criminal gangs or networks. Kampala is awash with conmen who have infiltrated the system.”
They have scouts in banks who alert them on who has got money on which account, he said, and connive to hack into the said accounts.
The police chief’s uncharacteristically candid statements come against the backdrop of detectives investigating circumstances under which Deniel Weldo, an Eritrean national doing business in South Sudan, was allegedly abducted by Ugandans from Kampala and killed hundreds of kilometres across the border in Kenya.
The attackers reportedly obtained advance information ostensibly from their bank scouts that the deceased had Euros2m (Shs7.4b) on his bank account.
The attackers’ attempt to steal the cash has since failed, according to investigators.
Three suspects, among them a UPDF Captain, have been arrested and are awaiting trial in connection with Weldo’s killing. Employees of two major banks are also being investigated.
Investors not spared
According to Gen Kayihura, the second major operation the criminal gangs in Uganda run, involves defrauding foreign investors they lure into the country.
Although he didn’t give any specifics, saying it would jeopardise ongoing inquiries, the most recent high-profile case was of senior military officials allegedly fleecing arms suppliers from Poland in a fake multi-billion shillings deal.
Gen Kayihura and top military commanders flew to Poland this month to inquire into the scam and reportedly recorded victims’ statements.
Uganda Bankers Association (UBA) officials were unavailable by press time to explain how financial institutions in the country were safeguarding customers’ money in light of the unsettling revelations by Gen Kayihura.
This newspaper understands that UBA has in the past provided equipment to police for tracking and investigating fraud cases.
In 2014, banks lost more than Shs27 billion through fraudulent transactions.
The cases more than doubled from 36 cases in 2013 to 83 cases in 2014.
The silver-lining is that police, according to Gen Kayihura, is not resting on its laurels.
The deputy director of Criminal Investigations, Mr William Kototyo, under whose docket bank-related crimes fall, previously disclosed that the increased fraud cases prompted them to attach detectives to private banks for early detection of financial crimes.