Kagezi killing: Key suspect in Sweden

Late acting assistant DPP Joan Kagezi 

What you need to know:

  • The Office of the Director of Public Prosecution says the main suspect is hiding in Europe and efforts are underway to request for extradition.

The government is planning to extradite the major suspect in the assassination of former assistant Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Joan Kagezi, Monitor can reveal.

On Wednesday, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP) disclosed that the main suspect in the killing of Kagezi is hiding in Europe and efforts as per deputy DPP John Baptist Asiimwe “are underway to request for [his] extradition … from Europe to Uganda.”

The revelation was made as Mr Asiimwe appeared before Parliament’s Committee on Human Rights. The deputy DPP, however, stopped short of naming the suspect.

“This individual had previously been indicted for murder in a different case and committed to High Court. He was, however, released on bail by the High Court, which he jumped and is believed to be in Europe,” Mr Asiimwe disclosed, adding that “efforts will continue until the responsible perpetrators are apprehended and brought to book.”

Monitor understands that the main suspect is believed to be hiding in Sweden, a country that has no extradition pact with Uganda.

Seven years after Kagezi was killed, Monitor, which has investigated this story for the last five years and spoken to a number of sources, can for the first time reveal the identity of the suspected shooter. The identity of the suspected shooter we have unraveled fits the profile of what the deputy DPP told the House Committee on Human Rights midweek.

Who is the suspect?
This newspaper has opted to withhold the name of the suspected shooter for both legal reasons, as well as not to jeopardise the ongoing investigations that we understand are at an advanced stage.

We can now, nevertheless, exclusively reveal the hideaway of the suspected shooter as Sweden. We can also sketch the portrait of the suspect.

This is after corroborating our information with multiple sources, including those in the ODPP. The giveaways that Mr Asiimwe furnished the House committee with offer more ironclad proof.

By the time the suspect was believed to have pulled the trigger, ending Kagezi’s life on March 25, 2015 aged just 47, he was a tall, light-skinned young man in his early 20s with a polite demeanour.

A year earlier, he had been incarcerated at Luzira upper prison on charges of aggravated robbery and murder.

His bail application was cause-listed in October of 2014 and was before Justice Lameck Nsubuga Mukasa of the High Court. 

The suspect’s brief stay in Luzira was remarkable for its ostentatiousness. There were also telltale signs for the offences he stood accused of back in 2014.

At the time he was remanded, highly placed sources told this newspaper that the suspect bore a fresh wound around the neck, presumably inflicted by his victims as they fended off his attack.

The wound was stitched at Mulago hospital where he received treatment and upon recovery, he returned to prison.

Highly-placed sources revealed that this suspect lived a lavish lifestyle during his brief incarceration spell. His clothes were always pressed and fellow inmates competed for his favours. Upon doing his chores, they were feted with foodstuff and cash. The alleged suspect also sponsored football leagues in prison.

Asked about the matter, the prison’s spokesperson, Mr Frank Baine, was reluctant to comment when we first reported about the suspect in 2022.

“As prisons, we have nothing to do with that case. If the person you are talking about had not been convicted, then that is an issue of police and the DPP,” Mr Baine said, adding, “Also, when you say he lived a lavish lifestyle, I doubt that is true because a prison is a prison.”

Highly-placed sources claim the suspect later fled to Sweden, where his White girlfriend who financed his bail fees, lives.

“You can only move one person to another country if there are arrangements of extradition by law. Short of that, then you can only do it illegally, which is called rendition and Americans, the British, and even Uganda have done it,” Constitutional law expert Peter Walubiri said.

He added: “But legally, you only move a person from one country to another through extradition: You file charges in your country and then you apply in the country, where the alleged criminal is based, then prove to the court that there is reasonable suspicion of the commission of a crime. Some countries insist that a country where the suspect is being taken should have a robust legal system, they shouldn’t be subject to torture. Some countries insist that they can’t extradite people to countries with the death penalty.”

At the time of her death, Kagezi had been assigned one of the most sensitive tasks in her career. She was the lead prosecutor in the trial of those implicated in the 2010 bombings that left more than 80 people dead in Kampala.

One of the plausible theories in regard to the motive of her shooting suggests that regional jihadist networks had transferred funds to local terror cells to eliminate Kagezi to thwart efforts of the trial.

But what if there was another sinister plot hatched by conspirators who believed they could rely on Kagezi’s major role in the trial of the terror suspects as a red herring to throw sleuths off the trail?

Trial in Sweden?   
Ms Jacquelyn Okui, the ODPP spokesperson, in 2022, declined to comment, saying “the case is under investigation and the ODPP does not discuss a matter under inquiry because it could be jeopardised.”

In 2022, the Swedish Embassy in Kampala also declined to comment on the matter. “[The killers] were seen clearly. Why not publicise it and embarrass those who are harbouring them? I heard one of them was living somewhere.  Why not say if you cannot bring this person here then try him there?” Mr Museveni wondered.

The DPP, Justice Jane Abodo argued that “sometimes [some countries] don’t want to extradite suspects here if you have a death penalty in your laws.” Conceding to this assumption, President Museveni proposed that “then you try him there.”

In June last year, the President revealed that he would direct the then CID boss, Ms Grace Akullo, to give the country a brief on all the high-profile murders and the progress of their investigations. He, however, didn’t reveal when this would be.

Ms Akullo was reassigned to Interpol as director in February and replaced by Mr Tom Magambo. Sources revealed that the prima-facie evidence against the suspect was cogent. We were unable to establish the strength of the aforesaid evidence. The offences of murder and aggravated robbery of which the suspect stood accused, however, carry a maximum sentence of a death penalty.

Skilled marksman
The suspect was, nonetheless, granted bail in December 2014. We could not establish how bail was granted in such unclear circumstances as court records on the same were not accessible.

Little was heard from him again, until much later when his name and profile was listed among the prime suspects in the assassination of Kagezi.

That evening, at around 7.15pm, barely after daylight drained away at the margins of dusk, Kagezi, was among scores trapped in the traffic gridlock on the Kiwatule-Najjera road on her way home.

Police stand guard at the scene where acting assistant director of public prosecution Joan Kagezi was shot dead in Kampala, on March 31, 2015. PHOTO/AFP 

She stopped at a roadside stall in Kiwatule, a suburb in Kampala, to buy fruits.

The roadside fruit seller, one of the several witnesses later taken into protective custody, revealed that the deceased had been his customer for about a year.

“She stopped like usual, we chit-chatted for a bit, and she placed her order. As I looked the other way to get the stuff ready, I heard popping sounds, which I thought was the sound of a burst car tyre. Then I heard screams of children; our mother has been killed. When I turned to the road, I saw a boda boda speeding away,” the fruit vendor narrated.

The gunman, who had trailed her and who was transported on a motorcycle, fired shots at her that shattered the window of her vehicle in the presence of her children.

Barely after, she slumped on her seat and was pronounced dead. The suspect, who appeared to be a skilled marksman, slipped away on a motorcycle.

Other eyewitnesses described the suspect as a light-skinned man, which also fits the suspect’s identity.

Ms Akullo, who was held up in the same traffic on her way home, upon hearing the crack of gunfire, told her driver that ‘those are bullets.’

“When we rushed to the scene, I saw children crying that ‘our mother has been killed’. I asked which mother. They said ‘she is there in the car’, Kagezi. I looked in the car; it was the [assistant] DPP,” Ms Akullo told journalists that evening.

Cold trail
Police detectives immediately cordoned off and combed the crime scene for leads.

The then Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura, rushed to the scene alongside other heads of security agencies.

Gen Kayihura promised to quickly bring the killers to book.

Those who were arrested were largely Muslims linked to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group, which has been fighting the government since the 1990s and has bases in the restive eastern DR Congo.

Security personnel raided a number of what they ostensibly claimed were local ADF cells that coordinated Kagezi’s assassination. But the evidence against them appeared to be flawed and could not sustain a conviction.

Police also raided a house in Busega, a Kampala suburb, where they arrested four suspects alleged to be linked to the shooting. All the four were later released without any charge. Counter Terrorism officers also arrested ex-Guantanamo Bay detainee, Jamal Kiyemba, for possible links to the shooting.

On January 11, 2002, exactly four months after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States set up a high-security prison in its Guantanamo Bay base, Cuba.

Sulait Kiyemba, Kiyemba’s wife, told this newspaper that her husband, who is the Imam of Masjid Taqwa Zana in Makindye Ssabagabo Division, was arrested three days after the Kagezi assassination.

“We were here with him when the incident happened. I remember he was preparing to go to the mosque. We were all shocked by the news. Kagezi had helped previously to get him out of jail [in 2012], then three days later, he was picked up,” Ms Kiyemba said.

Mr Kiyemba has been arrested several times on suspected connections to Islamic extremism and acts of terror. In 1998, he was sent to the United Kingdom to pursue a degree in pharmacy but was later detained in Pakistan in 2002 in a US operatives-led sweep of suspected al-Qaeda terrorists.

He was imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay until 2006 when he was released and compensated for wrongful detention.

He was re-arrested in 2012 and later in 2015 barely after Kagezi was shot dead, as a suspect. He was briefly detained and released. He was re-arrested in January this year after he was linked to ADF. 

“The government should tell us who killed Kagezi because our people are suffering for nothing,” Ms Kiyemba lamented. “I don’t know what Muslims did to this government.”

According to police sources, detectives tracked the phones of all those who were near the Kagezi crime scene.

One of the persons whose phone was tracked by the officers was an evangelist based in Bweyogerere, Wakiso District. Upon his arrest, he told detectives that he had visited the area to pick up his piano he had earlier taken for repair. He was later released.

Some of the eyewitnesses were placed under the police witness protection programme and kept at a safe house for a year and were later freed.

Children of the late acting assistant DPP Joan Kagezi attend a church service for their mother in Kampala on April 2, 2015.  Photo/File

After six years, the Police CID last September sent the Kagezi case file to the ODPP for perusal. The ODPP, according to documents seen by this newspaper, sent the file back to police on September 13, 2021 as a result of unreliable evidence.

Seven years later, officials say the matter remains an open investigation after about 50 people were detained as suspects and later released.

Weaknesses in evidence
The ODPP spokesperson, Ms Okui, told this newspaper in 2022 that “we sent the file back to police because the evidence was wanting. We pointed out to them areas that needed more work to be undertaken.”

Ms Okui said all suspects were released on bail or bond pending the investigations. 

“No suspect is in prison in regard to this case because, like I said, we don’t have enough evidence yet to prosecute.”

Mr Mike Chibita, the former DPP, who is now a Justice of the highest appellate court, during an April 12, 2018 address to journalists at the Uganda Media Centre, said “one of the greatest disappointments for a prosecutor” was the failure to identify and prosecute the killers of Kagezi.

“What has made it hard is that I think it seems the people who did this were well-organised. They were not your ordinary criminals. They were able to plan it and escape and ensure tracks are covered,” he said. “When we looked through the evidence, we realised these [50] people could not have been the people. This is what made it hard; the investigators followed the track which was not the right one.”

Who wanted Kagezi dead?
So, who wanted Kagezi dead and what was the motive for killing her? Sunday Monitor tried to piece together a number of leads to try and unravel those behind the assassination of Kagezi.

At the time of her death, Kagezi was the head of the ODPP’s war crimes and anti-terrorism division.

She was the lead prosecutor in a high-profile terrorism case, involving suspects in the 2010 terrorist bombings in Kampala.

With a sharp prosecutorial wit, Kagezi was uncompromising in her pursuit of the truth. For this, she was lionised by her peers.

The American Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), sources familiar with the matter, which gave a support role to the Uganda security organs during the 2010 terrorist bombings probe, offered corresponding investigative support during the Kagezi investigations.

At the commencement of the probe, the FBI and Ugandan security agencies attempted to draw the nexus between the 2010 terror attacks and Kagezi’s assassination as a criminal enterprise masterminded by the sponsors of the 2010 terror attacks.

Was Kagezi killed by a jihadist group keen to nip in the bud the trial of the suspects she was prosecuting for staging the deadly twin bombings that killed more than 80 people at Kyadondo Rugby Club and Ethiopian Village Restaurant in Kampala? This appears to be quite a plausible theory.

However, there are other theories that ought to be examined.

Did those who masterminded the assassination take advantage of Kagezi’s role in the high-profile terror trial to shadow their heinous act?

Two years later, the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Andrew Felix Kaweesi, was gunned down at Kulambiro within the same vicinity of Kagezi’s assassination.

On June 1, 2021, assailants trailed the former Chief of Defence Forces and Works minister Gen Katumba Wamala and barely after his vehicle had driven through the Kulambiro ring-road, he was shot in a raid that resulted in the death of his daughter and driver.

The attack was also within the same neighbourhood where Kagezi and Kaweesi were killed.