Bishop accused of grabbing land

The disputed land in Mukono District. By the time the complainant obtained an interim order stopping any activity on the land, the buyer had already started construction works. Inset is Bishop Reuben Kisembo. PHOTO/ S. KAFEERO

What you need to know:

  • Bishop Reuben Kisembo, who currently heads Rwenzori Diocese, is also accused of using his position to subvert the course of justice.

The Bishop of Rwenzori Diocese is battling allegations that he, together with others, illegally sold land belonging to the estate of a deceased prelate during the Covid-19 lockdown last year.
Bishop Reuben Kisembo is also accused of using his position to subvert the course of justice. The bishop tersely told this publication that the “matter is before courts of law.”
Attempts to speak to Ms Esther Kabajungu and Mr Wycliff Ntambi, the alleged buyers of the land, didn’t yield much as our requests for a comment went unanswered by press time.

Records seen by this publication show that Ms Joyce Kamanyire Ruhweeza, one of the two surviving children of the late Bishop Eustace Kamanyire, sought the intervention of the Church of Uganda (CoU) authorities through Archbishop Samuel Stephen Kazimba Mugalu in a September 5, 2021 letter. The letter was received by the Church Commission Holding Company (after being directed there by the archbishop’s office) on September 6, 2021. 
“Further communication was made to the archbishop by phone call to confirm receipt of the letter, which he did and an SMS was also sent to him on September 14, 2021 at 08:56am for follow up, but he did not respond,” a representative of Ms Ruhweeza told this publication, adding, “Despite the detailed letter to the archbishop with all supporting documents, there has never been any further communication from him to date.”

The case
During the 42-day lockdown, Bishop Kisembo reportedly called Ms Ruhweeza saying he and Patricia Asaba (Bishop Kamanyire’s daughter-in-law) had found a buyer for the Mukono plots owned by the family of the deceased bishop.
The bishop, according to information obtained by this reporter, said the duo wanted to raise school fees for some of the orphaned grandchildren.
Ms Ruhweeza says she told him that she would consult her sister (Ruth) and a lawyer. Later, she says she reverted to the bishop and told him the land was not for sale and that they had no authority to sell it as the estate had not yet got administrators. 

Ms Ruhweeza, thereafter reportedly got several calls from a woman (on 0773-265-514) who identified herself as “Lawyer Esther” from LOI Advocates representing the bishop and Ms Patricia Asaba.
According to Ms Ruhweeza, the lady from the law firm tried to intimidate her to remove the caveats so that the land is sold. Ms Ruhweeza says this prompted her to not only stop picking calls from the above mentioned number, but also contact a lawyer from KGN Advocates.
The lawyer, who is her brother-in-law and at the same time a relative of Bishop Kisembo, was tasked with explaining to the bishop the “illegalities” of the transaction. Bishop Kisembo and Ms Kabajungu told the lawyer—Solomon Webale Araali—to put what he was saying in writing.
The letter dated August 25, 2021, and addressed to LOI Advocates with Bishop Kisembo cc’d reads in part: “Note that with Exception of Plots 3-11, Freehold Volume 849 Folio 6, the Trustees have no authority to deal with any part of the estate.”

Mr Webale further stated: “Where any such sale has already taken place, the sellers are advised to refund the money to the purchaser because the sale is illegal abnito.”
It was later discovered that the sale had already been concluded on July 9, 2021. The vendors were Bishop Kisembo as “chairperson of Bishop Kamanyire Trust Fund” and Patricia Asaba. The buyer was Ms Wycliff Ntambi and the agreement was signed in the presence of Ms Kabajungu.
Some disputed contents in the sale agreement described as “deceitful clauses” were: “The vendor holds letters of administration as the widow of late Peter Asaba Kamanyire, who was the registered proprietor of the land.” 
Per the certified copies of title seen by Saturday Monitor, the registered proprietor of the land is the late Bishop Kamanyire. Peter Asaba was later on registered as administrator of the estate of Bishop Kamanyire.

Ms Ruhweeza and her representatives say, through various engagements with his lawyers, it was claimed that Mr Ntambi had been made to speak on the phone with them before he paid the money. They say this is “absolutely false”, adding that the first time Ms Ruhweeza engaged with Mr Ntambi was in the presence of both their lawyers. This was after hearing of a civil case against Bishop Kisembo and others had started.
Per court records and other documents seen by Saturday Monitor, Ms Ruhweeza is not a party to this agreement and didn’t sign anywhere. It is alleged that Bishop Kisembo told Mr Ntambi that Ms Ruhweeza was sick and would sign the documents when she got better.

It was also discovered that the Mukono land worth anywhere between Shs400m and Shs500m had been sold at Shs195m as per the sale agreement. Only Shs77.6m of this was banked on the “Kamanyire Trust Fund” account in Centenary Bank on August 19, 2021, and yet the date of payment was indicated as July 9, 2021, in the sales agreement.
August 19, 2021 is the same day Ms Ruhweeza reported a criminal case of “intermeddling with the estate of the deceased” at Mukono Police Station.

Ms Ruhweeza’s representatives say the “illegal” sale was discovered after the two plots had been graded, retaining walls built and construction had commenced during the 42-day lockdown.  
Ms Ruth Kihumuro Kamanyire-Imukat has adjacent plots in the same area which were bequeathed to her by her late father. Ms Kamanyire-Imukat says she learnt about the activities on the two plots in question when the caretaker, Mr Francis Mugume, aka Junior, inquired if they had been sold. She says she summoned her sister, who on summoning Bishop Kisembo to record a statement, the bishop communicated to the investigating officer (Grace) via text message, saying he would travel to Mukono on September 2, 2021, as he had just reported from his annual leave. The bishop reportedly added that he was going to look for funds for fuel. Bank records show that he withdrew Shs3,560,000 on September 4, 2021, and Shs5,470,000 on September 8, 2021, from the “Trust fund” account, but never travelled to Mukono police to record his statement.
Instead, the investigating officer, Grace, was called by then Commandant of Lands Police Protection Unit, SSP Charles Mutungi, and grilled for summoning the bishop.

Sources say it was later discovered that Mr Mutungi had been misinformed by a lawyer identified as Esther that the bishop was being “harassed” by Mukono police. The harassment claim was corroborated by the bishop. Mr Mutungi later on claimed that he only guided Grace on how to summon a sitting bishop to safeguard her since he had got a call from State House also informing him that the bishop was being harassed.
Mukono police summoned only Mr Ntambi and he recorded a plain statement. No other statements were taken from the other suspects—Bishop Kisembo, Ms Asaba and Ms Kabajungu.

READ: Mengo accuses businessman Ham of land grabbing
While this was happening, Mr Ntambi continued with the construction. A civil case of trespass was, consequently, lodged at Mukono High Court to obtain an interim order halting the construction. The interim order was granted on September 22, 2021, by Ms Mary Ikit, the deputy registrar, High Court of Mukono. Mr Ntambi had at this point already constructed and roofed what appears to be a servants quarter. He had also built a storeyed house, and poured the slab for the first floor. Later on, a permanent injunction was secured to stop the construction and any use of the land until a court resolution.

Police fails
Failing to get results from the Mukono police, a complaint was made to the regional CID, Kampala Metropolitan East on September 18, 2021, requesting for the transfer of the file to regional level. The file was then transferred and investigations resumed. 
When Bishop Kisembo and Ms Kabajungu were summoned to make statements, a calling letter came from Kibuli CID headquarters requesting to transfer the file there because a complaint had been made by Ms Kabajungu that the bishop was being harassed.

While Mr Ntambi was summoned by the police, there is no record that he honoured the summons. Separate sources tell Monitor that a senior female military officer at State House, who is allegedly Mr Ntambi’s close relative, also intervened. Statements were taken from Bishop Kisembo and Ms Asaba after the intervention of the Deputy Inspector General of Police in the matter. He tasked the CID director to handle the matter impartially. 

Enter State House
On March 15, a letter from State House Legal Department (PO/19) was sent to Ms Ruhweeza and her sister Kamanyire-Imukat inviting them to State House Nakasero. The March 29 meeting was scheduled for 10am. The letter was based on a complaint by Bishop Kisembo and Ms Asaba that the Kamanyire sisters had frustrated the beneficiaries of the estate of their late father by foiling a meeting to select an administrator of the estate.

The letter, seen by this publication, is signed by Ms Flora Kiconco for the principal private secretary to the President. One of Ms Ruhweeza’s sons responded to the letter and mentioned thus: “The dispute subject of your letter is also subject of the ongoing Mukono H.C.C.S No. 234 of 2021 and a criminal case at CID headquarters Vide 88/19/08/2021 II. That Joyce Kamanyire Ruhweeza and Ruth Kihumuro Kamanyire-Imukat are the only surviving children of Bishop Kamanyire and that the ones who complained to State House legal department are not part of the family meeting that will sit to select administrators for the estate as none of them is a beneficiary (they aren’t blood relatives, Bishop Kisembo is a friend to the deceased and Patricia Asaba and Lucy Kamanyire are daughters in law).”

This publication understands that the meeting was attended by the complainants, a lawyer of Mr Ntambi and a son of Ms Ruhweeza on the said date. It was chaired by Judith Oromo—the private secretary, legal affairs at State House on behalf of Ms Kiconco (head of State House Legal Department). The meeting concluded that Bishop Kisembo and Ms Asaba sold what they had no mandate over. That Bishop Kisembo was only responsible for the land in Fort Portal and not the entire estate of the late Bishop Kamanyire.
On July 20, another letter signed by Ms Kiconco was sent to Bishop Kisembo and Ms Asaba inviting them for a meeting to discuss the same. Contents of this meeting were not disclosed to the other parties. There is no record to suggest Mr Ntambi was summoned by the State House Legal officials despite being central to the transaction. 

Mr Ntambi did not respond to our requests for a comment.
On October 18, there was a hearing of the civil matter at the High Court of Mukono. Bishop Kisembo and Ms Asaba did not show up. Mr Ntambi’s lawyer, however, asked to amend their “prayers” so that in the event that they lose the case, Ms Asaba and Bishop Kisembo will be ordered to pay Mr Ntambi. The next hearing is slated for November 24.