What you need to know:
Investigators cite senior army and police officers in masterminding racketeering and gold scams in the city and countryside, accusing the perpetrators of using the power of their offices and guns to intimidate detectives and frame unsuspecting victims as criminals.
Mr Augustine Nnamdi Onwuvuche, a Nigerian investor, was at his home in Lungujja in Rubaga Division, Kampala City, when guests visited him on November 16.
The visitors, who disembarked from a government owned motor vehicle registration number UG 2028C identified themselves as State House employees, who had been directed by the President to investigate him on several criminal cases.
Vehicles in the UG …. C registration series are used by State House, Office of the President and presidential appointees such as resident district commissioners.
Ms Harriet Komuhimbo, a private secretary at the State House, who led the team, is alleged to have identified herself as a private secretary to the President.
Before Mr Onwuvuche could ask questions, another group accompanied by a man dressed in police counter-terrorism uniform, arrived in a motor vehicle registration UBJ 122.
They claimed to be a back-up team.
After a brief chat, they ordered Mr Onwuvuche to accompany them to his business premises in Bwaise, Kampala’s northern Kawempe Division, for an on-site search. Mr Onwuvuche obliged.
He told investigators that after the search, the team dragged him back into the State House vehicle and on the way allegedly demanded money from him to save him from the criminal cases they were investigating.
“They told me that they were taking me to the police near my home, but they didn’t. They drove me to an entertainment place where they removed me from the State House vehicle and put me in a private vehicle,” Mr Onwuvuche told police detectives.
We were unable to independently verify the claims of extortion, which detectives are inquiring into.
In his account to investigators, Mr Onwuvuche said team drove him back to his house where they coerced him to give them money.
After holding him for hours, the suspect said he caved in to the cash demands and paid off the members.
He used the opportunity when his captors had relaxed to make an alarm to his neighbours to save him.
Terrified, his tormentors, he said, attempted to flee in their get-away cars, but he blocked the gate.
They grabbed the money bag and took off on foot, leaving the cars at the scene. It was a case of racketeering, police later found out.
Police investigations led to the arrest of Ms Komuhimbo, Regan Ahabwe, who identified himself as a political advisor to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, and another man.
State House’s Komuhimbo and Ahabwe were produced in court and charged with criminal trespass before they were remanded to Luzira Prison.
The incident was one of what police called increasing cases of racketeering and organised crime in Uganda involving security personnel, public servants and criminals who reportedly connive to guilt-trip unsuspecting victims in order to extract cash from them.
Ms Mariam Natasha, the spokesman of the State House Anti-Corruption Unit (SHACU), said they are still investigating several other cases against the accused where they have been targeting investors.
“We are working with Nateete Police Station to investigate more cases against them. They have been doing the same to several other victims,” she said, without providing the specifics of the other cases.
The cases of racketeering and organised crimes involving security personnel are now worrying ministers too.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, racketeering is a form of organised crime in which people are coerced through different ways - violent and non-violent - to give money or favours.
Sometimes racketeering involves bribery, fraud, intimidation and capital offences like robbery and murder.
Security sources interviewed for this article say such cases involving security personnel, public servants and civilians are not new, but the rates have increased after the 2021 General Election.
In the 2021 General Election, security agents driving vehicles with civilian registration carried out arbitrary arrests of people suspected to have participated in or planned protests.
The suspects were detained for days or months without their relatives knowing who had arrested them or where they were being held.
The source said since then some security agents with criminal minds have been using the 2020 events to carry out illegal arrests and organised crime.
Illegal roadblocks by armed people dressed in security uniforms targeting civilians with money and robbing them have continued in the city and its suburbs, according to police investigators.
Details of ongoing inquiries show that racketeers continue to arrest innocent people on fake criminal charges with the purpose of coercing them to give them money.
Uganda’s organised crime ranking in Africa and the region is unacceptably high.
According to the Africa Organised Crime Index of 2023, Uganda is ranked seventh out of 54 African countries and second among the eight East African countries with the highest organised crime.
It jumped from the 13th and fifth position in Africa and East Africa respectively in 2019.
In Onwuvuche’s case, after the suspects robbed him of cash and abandoned their car at his home, they then turned around and accused him of stealing the same vehicle.
According to detectives, the suspects even turned up at the crime scene to recover what they claimed to be a stolen vehicle.
However, the police subjected their allegations to investigations and found out that they were untrue.
Interestingly, the suspects were presented to court on criminal trespass, which is a misdemeanour that attracts a sentence of one year imprisonment on conviction.
Neither the police nor the prosecutor informed the victim about the court process and learnt about it from this journalist.
The Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesman, Mr Patrick Onyango, said they are still investigating to establish the police officers who participated in that criminal activity.
“When the investigations are done and we have obtained the evidence that we are looking for, we might ask for the amendment of the charges against the suspects,” Mr Onyango said.
During the 27th Police Council at police headquarters last month, Maj Gen (Rtd) Kahinda Otafiire, the minister of Internal Affairs, said the criminality among officers at the level of superintendents and inspectors is alarming and there is need for stringent measures to monitor them.
“At the top [leadership], there is no problem. But when you get to ASP (Assistant Superintendent of Police] and IP (Inspectors of Police) and other groups, Eh! There are high problems. You have to keep an eye on them every time,” Maj Gen Otafiire said.
On September 19, ASP James Kakana, an officer-in-charge of Namayingo District, and four others, who are civilians, were accused of waylaying a commuter taxi and robbed $317,900 (Shs1.2b) at Nakirebe on Kampala-Masaka Road.
The officer is alleged to have been wearing his uniform and holding a pistol, according to the police.
With the use of the Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) camera footage, the investigators identified the suspects and their get-away vehicle.
Upon detecting that they had been identified, ASP Kakana was later arrested in Nansana Township, Wakiso District, on October 16.
ASP Kakana and four of his accomplices were produced before the Grade I Magistrate at Mpigi District on aggravated robbery charges the next day before they were remanded to prison.
The acting Chief Police Political Commissar, Hadijah Namutebi, described the incident as embarrassing and unacceptable for a senior police officer to participate in.
The police has been struggling to redeem its image after Kampala Metropolitan Police Deputy Commander Vincent Irama was arrested, alongside UPDF soldiers and civilians, on allegations of hiring hitmen to kill a paralegal, Ronald Mukisa.
The deceased was shot dead at his home in Kitiko, Ndejje Division in Makindye Ssabagabo, Wakiso District, on allegations of short-changing in a car deal a businessman, Robert Irama Karedou, a brother to police commander Vincent Irama.
Karedou, SP Irama, UPDF Sergeant Rashid Ayubu Okot, UPDF Cpl Max Geoffrey Anyase, Brenda Cathy Nalwoga and Josebert Hayeza Muzey have since been charged in a military court with murder.
Security agencies said they had recovered the killer gun from Cpl Anyase.
The last time a police officer of that rank was named in a hire-to-kill case was during the hearing of Justice Julia Ssebutinde Commission of Inquiry into the corruption and mismanagement in the Uganda Police Force 24 years ago.
The military has not been spared by racketeering scandals.
The most recent incident was in October after Mr Bony Mfitemukiza reported to the police that three armed men had kidnapped him at a petrol station in Bulenga, Wakiso District.
Mfitemukiza told the police that the armed men robbed him of his money before driving him to a mobile money agent where they forced him to withdraw money, which they also took.
After the robbery, they dumped him along the way.
When the police followed up on the incident, they tracked down the vehicle that the suspects used on Yusuf Lule Road in Kampala.
Upon intercepting the vehicle and searching it, they found a person identified as Gerald Kyazze they had illegally confined in the car boot.
The suspects, who were identified to be Special Forces Command soldiers, had held another victim in a racketeering incident with the purpose to coerce them to give them money.
The Ministry of Defence and Veterans Affairs confirmed that suspects were their personnel and they were investigating criminal cases of their soldiers, who were involved in the crimes.
One UPDF soldier, Capt Charles Asiimwe has been accused of impersonating an immigration officer and moving from one business to another that is owned by foreigners, picking cash ostensibly to protect them from deportation.
The Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control Spokesman, Mr Simon Mundeyi, said the suspect had taken money under duress to the tune of Shs100m from the foreign nationals.
“He went to a supermarket in Mukono Town wearing our immigration uniform and collected Shs4m. From here, he went to a pharmacy in Wandegeya and collected Shs5m. On the same day, he went to Luwum Street pharmacy (in Kampala) and also collected Shs4m,” he said.
On the day the soldier was arrested, he had gone to the immigration headquarters to process documents for a foreigner.
Immigration officers had been receiving complaints about the same soldier for five years, but they were unable to track him down.
Even in upcountry townships, some errant security personnel are targeting innocent people. In June this year, three UPDF soldiers and two others pretended to be businessmen looking for maize to buy.
They allegedly contacted a businessman, Mr Michael Muwama, in Kiboga District.
Unsuspecting Muwama met them thinking that he was to sell to him the grains only to be illegally detained on fake criminal cases.
The suspects later took his money by duress before they released him. The victim reported to police that they tracked down the suspects and arrested them.
Police investigators said incidents where junior security personnel are involved are easier to investigate and conclude, but they find challenges in gold businesses where racketeering is done by senior army officers and public servants.
A senior detective recalls a gold scam in 2019 and 2020 that involved senior officers of the Internal Security Organisation, Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, senior lawyers and the immigration.
Two American businessmen allegedly bought gold in Cameroon worth billions of shillings. The precious mineral was to be transported via Entebbe, Uganda, to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and onwards to Canada.
The gold bars were switched for aluminium bars. A top security officer contacted the businessmen about the swap incident and ordered them to travel to Uganda or lose their gold, which they accepted.
The businessmen were later entrapped into another fake gold transaction to which they fell victim. The suspects escorted by armed soldiers disappeared after the payments.
Efforts by the investors to pursue the case at the police attracted intimidation from the security personnel, who attempted to kidnap them in a restaurant on fake criminal cases.
The victims were saved by detectives after making several calls to their supervisors.
Although the top military generals were interrogated and some admitted to have participated in the gold scam, none was prosecuted let alone arrested.
A senior police officer said investigating criminal cases with fingerprints of security and intelligence honchos boomerangs on the investigators, leaving many such claims without inquiries or closures.
“Often times, the suspects will evade justice since they have an audience at higher decision-making levels. Their narratives are considered the accurate version of events,” a source, who preferred anonymity, said.
Mr Onwuvuche, the one pursued by a State House staffer and back-up police, for a comment about his ordeal, declined to comment for this article, saying he is still recovering from the shock he experienced at the hands of the errant security personnel.
Efforts to get a comment from the State House spokesperson, Sandor Walusimbi, and the UPDF spokesperson, Brig Gen Felix Kulayigye, were futile by press time as they did not answer our repeated calls nor respond to our messages.