Uganda’s UK mission in Shs8b tax fraud

Sunday July 8 2012

Uganda’s High Commissioner to the UK Rwabyomere. File photo

Uganda’s High Commissioner to the UK Rwabyomere. File photo 

By CHRIS OBORE

Her Majesty the Queen’s Revenue and Customs officials are investigating Uganda’s High Commission in London over an estimated Shs8 billion tax fraud.

It has also carried away, from the High Commission office, a computer that reportedly contains confidential briefs to President Museveni about UK’s relationship with Uganda.

According to diplomatic sources, the computer that was used by deputy head of mission, Ambassador Isaac Sebulime, has been with the British tax officials for the last three months raising fears that all the intelligence briefs on UK by the Embassy are now in the hands of the British government.

The computer was handed over to the Queen’s tax men by the High Commissioner, Joan Rwabyomere, after the revenue officials implicated the Ugandan diplomats in tax evasion.

The UK’s revenue officials reportedly unearthed a shady deal in which Ugandan diplomats had abused the privileges accorded to the High Commission to access tax free goods. After realising that the High Commission had collected duty free goods worth two million pounds [about Shs8 billion], the Queen’s revenue officials stormed the Embassy on March 27 and tasked the diplomats to explain what the High Commission needed such goods for.

A senior Foreign Affairs official told this newspaper that, the British officials had discovered that Ugandan diplomats were getting duty free goods in the name of the High Commission but were re-selling them in the open market.

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All Embassy officials including Ambassador Rwabyomere have been interrogated except a one Mr John Ndawula, who is said to have been fetching the goods on behalf of the Embassy.

Mr Ndawula, a consular clerk, who has worked in the High Commission for more than 10 years, has since abandoned work unceremoniously.
Ambassador Rwabyomere confirmed to this newspaper by telephone that: “This matter is being investigated. Ndawula, who is involved, is no longer a staff of the High Commission.”

A source in the diplomatic circles told this writer that British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has written to Ambassador Rwabyomere asking her to waive diplomatic immunity on all staff at the High Commission so that the Queen’s police can interrogate them over suspected fraud.

Tax evasion is a serious crime in UK. Ms Rwabyomere declined to divulge more information saying: “I cannot answer those questions. How did you get it?”

The PS at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Amb. James Mugume confirmed that fraud investigation was being done by the British police. “We are cooperating with the British police,” he said.

He, however, wondered why a computer containing political briefs, was handed over to the police. “It doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.
Since Mr Ndawula disappeared on March 26, his wife has reportedly asked the Embassy to explain his whereabouts but Ms Rwabyomere told her to report to police.

Sources say the ‘missing’ Ndawula fears to implicate senior diplomats who reportedly used him as a conduit for the duty free goods.
An audit report on the Embassy’s finances also implicates Ms Rwabyomere of not accounting for 2,500 pounds [about Shs9 million] allegedly as expenses to travel to New York to attend Commonwealth Foreign Ministers meeting.

The audit report, a copy of which this newspaper has obtained states: “It was, however, noted that there was no evidence that the trip was actually undertaken. There were no boarding passes attached or back-to-office reports explaining whether the objectives of the trip were achieved.

“The funds for the purchase of an air-ticket were advanced to the officer as opposed to paying directly to the travel agency because the officer claimed she had used her Debit card to purchase an online ticket. The officer has not accounted for the trip.”

In another dramatic development, Ms Rwabyomere is reportedly seeking British citizenship even though according to UK immigration laws, diplomats are not allowed to change citizenship.

Efforts to have Ms Rwabyomere comment on this matters failed as she insisted that: “I would advise you to get in touch with the permanent secretary.”

Amb. Mugume said he was unaware that Ms Rwabyomere had sought indefinite leave to stay in UK, a practice that is not allowed for serving diplomats. “Let us find out why,” he said.

cobore@ug.nationmedia.com

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