Go face trial, court tells minister Kitutu

Minister for Karamoja Affairs Mary Goretti Kitutu during her bail hearing at the Anti-Corruption Division of the High Court in Kampala in April. PHOTO/ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • Judge dismisses all grounds minister advances in an application to discontinue her trial at the Anti-Corruption Court over the Karamoja iron-sheet scandal, ruling that her case was tainted with “untruthfulness”.

The Anti-Corruption Division of the High Court has dismissed all grounds Karamoja Affairs minister Goretti Kitutu advanced to stop her trial on corruption-related charges and ruled that her case was tainted with “untruthfulness”. 

The decision of Justice Jane Kajuga means that the prosecution of the minister over the Karamoja iron sheets saga, which had been stayed pending determination of her application, will now commence. 

Minister Kitutu sought court’s declarations to, among others, discontinue her trial on grounds that she was tortured by police during arrest and interrogation, claims if proven would have let her off the hook. 

She was on August 6 indicted for loss of public property and conspiracy to defraud, stemming from her alleged diversion of 9,000 pre-painted gauge 28 iron sheets meant for vulnerable Karimojong and youthful warriors. 

The minister denied the charges and filed an application within the same court that her trial be discontinued because police and Parliament during investigations violated her rights, including subjecting her to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. 

Among the grounds she raised were that she was denied food and access to a lawyer and relatives during detention in police cells where she alleged to have been held longer than the 48-hour constitutional threshold. 

She also averred that Members of Parliament on the Presidential Affairs Committee excoriated her during an appearance, calling her a “thief”, and in the full glare of television journalists she believed were part of orchestrated “malicious” media coverage. 

Presiding judge Kajuga ruled that contrary to the minister’s claims, “members and agents of the Uganda police, the parliamentary Committee on Presidential Affairs and other state institutions did not subject the applicant to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment...” 

She added: “The investigations into the alleged theft of iron sheets meant for the Karamoja community empowerment programme and the resultant criminal charges were nor irregularly tainted with gross abuse of the applicant’s non-derogable rights with the effect that the trial in HCT-00-AC-SC-0005 2023 is a nullity in law. The application, therefore, fails and is dismissed with no order to costs.” 

The judge rejected Ms Kitutu’s claims that reporting against her over the iron sheet saga on state-owned and social media was orchestrated with malice, causing irreparable damage to her right to a fair hearing. 

“The media reporting in the iron sheets case has not irreparably violated the applicant’s right to a fair hearing that no fair trial can ensue from it,” the judge held. 

She added: “Failing to prove that the applicant was portrayed as a guilty person, I’m unable to find that her right to a fair hearing has been infringed and that she is not likely to receive justice in the trial court on account of [media] reporting.” 

The minister, who is Manafwa District Woman MP, had alleged that she was tortured, her right to a fair hearing violated after exculpatory exhibits and documents in possession of the state were not disclosed to her. 

The issues for court to determine from Ms Kitutu’s applications were whether the applicant’s non-derogable right to a fair hearing had been violated through prosecutorial misconduct and deliberate non-disclosure of exculpatory evidence in the state’s possession. 

The others were whether her non-derogable rights to a fair hearing and freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment had been breached through prejudicial, targeted and malicious media coverage or during inquiries. 

Court found that the investigations against minister Kitutu were not irreparably tainted with gross abuse, as she impugned, and neither was her right to fair hearing abused. 

It held that there was no malicious media coverage orchestrated against her and neither police nor legislator subjected her to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. 

“The application [by Kitutu], therefore, fails and is dismissed with no costs,” Justice Kajuga ruled.     

The Karamoja Affairs minister Kitutu alongside her brother Micheal Naboya Kitutu and junior Agness Nandutu as well as Mr Joshua Abaho, a senior assistant secretary at the Office of the Prime Minister OPM), are facing prosecution for allegedly causing loss of public property, conspiracy to defraud and being in possession of suspect property.  

The Karamoja Affairs docket falls under OPM and the government procured the iron sheets that has landed the quartet in trouble using emergency funding for Karimojong in need. 

Director of Public Prosecutions, Jane Frances Abodo.  Photo/File

Prosecution alleges that the accused either diverted or were found in possession of the iron sheets which never reached the intended beneficiaries. 

The accused denied the charges and were subsequently committed to the High Court for trial. 

However, before the trial could commence, minister Kitutu asked the court to dismiss the charges against her, claiming state investigator tortured her during arrest, detention and inquiries. 

She claimed that on the night of April 3, she received a phone call from the Prime Minister, directing her to report to the Police’s Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) headquarters in Kibuli, a Kampala suburb. 

Ms Kitutu said upon arrival at about 9am, to her dismay, she was arrested and subjected to an unprofessional, inquisitorial interrogation by non-security personnel about the iron sheets procured for Karamoja Sub-region. 

“The officers slandered me and accused me of being a thief,” the minister’s filings in court read in part. 

She alleged that the interrogators had prepared notes with information she had no clue about, adding that they wrote a statement with their own pre-arranged answers which they forced her to sign. 

The minister said she signed the statement as a result of her long restraint by the officers and the psychological pressure they applied. 

Court documents indicate that after the police questioning, the minister said she was escorted to Parliament to face the Committee on Presidential Affairs whose members were decidedly hostile and judgmental, explaining why she declined to take oath. 

This prompted the chairperson of the committee to order her arrest and return to CID headquarters in Kibuli where Ms Kitutu alleged she was threatened and maltreated, including being kept in a darkroom and driven to different places, among them Kayunga District, until 3am. 

Justice Kajuga found no merit in the claims, noting that the accused was neither under arrest nor detention when she went to Parliament where she was on the fateful day even chauffeured with her own bodyguard present. 

The judge observed that the proceedings at Parliament are ordinarily covered by the media and media cameras zooming on the minister was nothing unique. 

The minister had claimed that CID Deputy Director Beeta Chelimo upon identifying herself to her harshly communicated that she would not return home, which scared her and she felt “tired, thirty and hungry”. 

She further claimed that once transferred to Kira police division headquarters, she was denied food and access to a lawyer and family and made to sit the rest of the night out on a small stoll.   

Justice Kajuga, however, agreed with the respondents’ submission that CID Deputy Director Chelimo ordered Ms Kitutu’s detention at around 9pm and driving her from Kibuli to Kira police, where she was booked in for “safe custody” at 10:46pm, took longer due to traffic snarl. 

The judge held that the minister’s claim that she had was blindfolded and driven to Kayunga District that night was “incredible” and “I dismiss it as such”. 

Justice Kajuga found that claims by Ms Kitutu that her husband and sister-in-law were turned away and that she was denied food while in detention were “untruthfulness in the applicant’s case”.

“I am not satisfied that there was a deliberate and intentional denial of food for any of the purposes cited in Section 2(1) of the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act,” the ruling reads in part.
 
The judge also ruled that the minister was produced in court within the 48-hour constitutional threshold and there was no evidence that she was “abused and called a thief either at the police or Parliament or harassed”. 

The evidence that minister Kitutu adduced in court to support the allegations, Justice Kajuga held, fell short of the requisite standard.

About the charges
Minister Goretti Kitutu is being prosecuted for causing loss of public property and conspiracy to defraud. 

The case against her, and three others including her brother and junior minister Agness Naduttu, stem from alleged diversion of iron sheets that the government procured with emergency funding for youthful warriors (Karachunas) and vulnerable Karimojong. 

AIGP Tom Magambo, the director of police Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID).  Photo/Courtesy of Mr Magambo’s X Handle

On President Museveni’s orders, Mr Tom Magambo, the director of police Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID), and Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Jane Frances Abodo, led the inquiries into the case that has taken the ministers to court. 

Prosecution alleges that between June 2022 and January 2023, at the stores of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) in Namanve, Mukono District, minister Kitutu and co-accused, among others, caused loss of 9,000 pre-painted gauge 28 iron sheets either through diversion or illegal possession.