After one year and one month on remand, first in Masaka Central Prison and later briefly at Luzira Murchison Bay Prison, Berhnard Bery Glasser, 73, succumbed to diabetes and cancer on May 7. A day before, the German national, had been arraigned in the High Court in Kampala for bail hearing while prostrate and stock-still.
His cancer, said to be stage-four, according to medical records, had disfigured—almost torn off—the left side of his face. While on remand, he received treatment both at Murchison Bay and Uganda Cancer Institute, records show, but his condition kept deteriorating.
His May 6 appearance in court for bail before Justice Moses Kazibwe was the twelveth. The application last July by his lawyers, Evans Ochieng, Caleb Alaka and Lester Kaganzi, for bail to seek treatment was dismissed by the then Masaka High Court resident Judge Winfred Nabisinde, who instead offered a speedy trial, which never took off.
During a hearing in July, lawyers argued that the accused had been granted bail in 2013, when he was first arraigned in court for the same charges, by the then Justice Margaret Oguli Oumo, the deputy head of the Anti-Corruption, however, Justice Nabisinde argued that she was not at all bound by the former’s decision. The judge directed prison authorities to accord the accused the treatment he needs.
Justice Nabisinde stated that there was need to balance the rights of both the accused and the accusers. Three months earlier, in April, Bery had been charged before the same court on 27 counts; 15 for aggravated child trafficking, and nine for defilement. He was also charged for illegally operating a shelter for indigent girls in Mwena Village, in Kalangala District. He pleaded not guilty.
After the July hearing, a tense atmosphere engulfed the Bery trial in Masaka court as the defence lawyers maintained that a sick person cannot stand the speedy trial proposed by the judge. In October, Justice Nabisinde dismissed the second bail application. Consequently, a week later, she wrote to the former Principal Judge Yorokamu Bamwine recusing herself from the case.
The case subsequently transferred to the High Court in Kampala, where it stalled over several procedural matters, until May 6 when a bail hearing was arranged but the accused died a day later.
While the Masaka High Court, at the insistence of the prosecution, maintained that the accused access treatment from prison, the Uganda Cancer Institute executive director, Dr Jackson Oryem, according to correspondences seen by Daily Monitor, in December had advised the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) that though the accused situation had stabilised at the time, Bery suffered from a “clinically progressive disease” that required advanced treatment abroad.
Late last month, prisons authorities wrote to the Principal Judge and DPP noting that Bery had been discharged from the Uganda Cancer Institute as his condition could no longer been managed there, and yet several attempts by his lawyers to get him bail had been in vain.
“The cancerous wound on his cheek has got worse and his health condition is dangerously deteriorating,” a letter, appended with medical documents from the deceased’s doctors in Belgium, from prisons authorities, noted.
“Our concern is that the accused could easily die,” the letter added.
Wheels of justice turn slow
With Bery dead, the trial which dragged on from last April is dead too. Whether he is guilty or innocent of the crimes he was accused of is now beyond the adjudication of courts of law.
In Kalangala where he first arrived as a tourist 15 years ago and later established a psychosocial humanitarian centre— Ssese Humanitarian Services— some of the locals claim these allegations are baseless. During the several court appearances in Masaka, some residents braved roughly 60km-journey over the water and land from Kalangala to stand in solidarity with him.
According to Bery’s lawyers, the client maintained his innocence until death. The court case they reinforced, like most island dwellers believe, was contrived and a result of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) rivalry. They are convinced that, had court manifestly handled the case, the accused would have been exonerated and probably settled the matter for good.
He was first accused of the same allegations in 2009 by a local child rights NGO but the case collapsed. Then in 2013, a female journalist working with a local media house—who was reportedly being used by one of Bery’s partners—resurrected the allegations again in 2013 but the DPP withdrew the file in 2016 for lack of cogent evidence to prosecute Bery.
In 2018, Asia Namusoke of People in Need Agency—an NGO, claiming to be doing charity work, whom Bery personally invited to work together with prospects of tentatively taking over from him, revived the allegations.
In an earlier interview last year, Namusoke claimed she suspected that a lot wasn’t going right at Bery’s place so she had a mission to expose the dirt.
“He (Bery) invited me to go and work with him; he thought I was the best person to succeed him. When I reached at this place, there was a lot that was happening that I did not agree with; he was a social worker, mentor father, finance guy, and everything else,” Namusoke added.
However, several islanders who talked to Bery’s widow, Ingrid Glaser, said Namusoke turned against Bery after the two fell out over accountability issues, so she allegedly orchestrated his downfall. This, Namusoke denied.
Namusoke, working with another crowd funding outfit—No White Saviors Movement, have since established another charity, Lily of the Valley Uganda, that claims to provide a safe shelter for young women survivors of sex trafficking and sexual abuse.
According to its website, Lily of the Valley, a name for a highly poisonous woodland plant with a sweetly scented and bell-shaped white flowers that blossom in spring time in parts of Europe, “the charity is a safe place for a group of 20 girls and young women who were rescued from Bery’s Place.”
Police raided Bery’s shelter last year at the request of Namusoke. There were more than a dozen girls who were taken away. However, only those considered witnesses or offered to testify against Bery are still tucked away while others escaped back to Kalangala.
At the time of death, Bery’s trial charge sheet had been amended to 15 counts of aggravated child trafficking and five counts of defilement down from nine.
All the girls accusing Bery today vehemently defended him in the last case, which collapsed in 2016, according to documents and files seen by this newspaper. Some of the key witnesses further claimed that they were forced by and threatened with rape by police detectives at Special Investigation Unit in Kireka, Kampala to falsify testimonies against Bery.
The spokesperson of the DPP’s office, Ms Jacquelyn Okui, told Daily Monitor that the girls defended Bery, then, because he was still their benefactor.
“The DPP withdrew the case against the late Glasier initially because the witnesses were not cooperative,” she said. “Eventually, they turned around, came forth and expressed their willingness to participate in the matter. Given that at that point there were witnesses that could be relied upon for a successful prosecution, the DPP reinstated the case,” Ms Okui added.
While there are host of NGOs and American funders known to be working with the prosecution, Ms Okui said they are not aware of any NGO fights.
“Whether or not there was an NGO fight is insignificant because we considered concrete evidence,” she said.
During the botched pre-trial plea bargain negotiations last year in May, the NGOs working with the prosecution demanded that Bery’s organisation be closed; he pleads guilty for a lesser sentence and repatriated under the Transfer of convicted Offenders Act, 2012, to serve the sentence in his home country and also pay Shs170 million in damages. His defence team of lawyers rejected the plea-bargain.
Another case of Douglas Kyaligamba bears parallels with Bery’s accusations. The key witnesses in Kyaligamba’s case were involved in Bery’s case.
Daily Monitor has established that one the State Attorney’s in Bery’s case was involved in influencing Kyaligamba’s file. The DPP’s office declined to comment about this matter.
Kyaligamba, like Bery, was initially charged with aggravated defilement and child trafficking but the charge sheet was amended after the prosecution witnesses flip-flopped in their accounts. Consequently the defilement charges were dropped and he is currently facing two trafficking charges.
The two witnesses accusing Kyaligamba were girls previously living at Bery’s shelter. Kyaligamba said an American woman, Roxanne Turner, who previously worked with Bery, whom he met in a taxi to Masaka requested him to temporarily take care of the girls on grounds that Bery was sexually harassing them.
One of the girls/witnesses, Joan Nakafeero, it was claimed was impregnated by Bery but this newspaper established the pregnancy was out of a relationship with her boyfriend. This, the boyfriend’s mother confirmed to this newspaper.
Another girl, Immaculate Ayiyo, claimed Kyaligamba had molested her inside Nakasero hospital restrooms where he had been admitted for close to eight months in 2018 after suffering a debilitating stroke. Ayiyo was taken to Kyaligamba by Turner in 2017, on grounds that she needed refugee from Bery’s predatory tendencies.
She claimed that upon reaching Kyaligamba’s, he also started preying on and even impregnated her, and then “pushed her to sleep around with other men so that any of them could be the father of the child.”
However, when Kyaligamba pressed for a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) test in court, the prosecution dropped the charge.
He is now accused of transporting, transferring, harbouring and receiving both Nakafeero and Ayiyo who were in possession of vulnerability from Turner who has guardianship over them.
Kyaligamba narrated to Daily Monitor that he is a victim of a toxic fight between Namusoke and the late Bery.
“When Turner first told me to take care of Ayiyo, I was told she had been defiled by Bery. The following day, a gentlemen who identified himself as Paul, working with Namusoke called me instructing to take the girl to police and record a defilement statement against Bery. But when I talked to the girl, she claimed otherwise. Immediately I called Ayiyo’s parents to come and pick her up,” he said.
“About a week or so later, Namusoke called me, our first interface on phone. She told me that she wanted us to work together to wash away Bery. She said she had got a piece of land from Kalangala District officials and wanted to establish her own charity,” Kyaligamba added.
He said he travelled to Kalangala to warn Bery against Namusoke’s schemes but the former vehemently defended her. He said Bery turned against him and that is when he last met him.
This newspaper reached out to Namusoke for an interview to respond to the claims, a request she did not respond to.
Kyaligamba’s case has also dragged on from last year as prosecution keeps asking for time to gather more evidence.
During the last September 15 hearing, Namusoke testified before Buganda Road Court that she had sent Kyaligamba money via mobile money which he used to traffick both Ayiyo and Nakafero. Court asked her to present the mobile money records, which the prosecution has failed to produce and continues to ask for more time.
Bery was cremated on May 12 and part of his ashes spread over Lake Victoria as he stated in the will, his lawyers said.
While it was claimed that all the girls were taken away from his custody, those who declined to testify against him we returned away and went back to his shelter in Kalangala.