Kazinda: Eight years of battling dozens of graft charges

Former Principal Accountant in the Office of the Prime Minister, Geoffrey Kazinda.   PHOTO/Abubaker Lubowa

What you need to know:

At the peak of his powers, it’s said Geoffrey Kazinda lived an ostentatious lifestyle but after seven years of battling seemingly unending corruption-related offences, the former Principal Accountant in the Office of the Prime Minister is a now shadow of his former self.

Geoffrey Kazinda is now despondent. Nothing that the judges or the prosecution do takes him by surprise anymore.

 He objects but the judge waves off his protest.  Kazinda’s response? A cynical smile.

 “It’s up to them,” Kazinda gabbled one time. “They can do what they want.” 

Since 2012, Kazinda has been tossed between the Anti- Corruption Court, where he has been battling a horde of graft- related offences filed by both the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Inspector General of Government (IGG) and now his permanent home, Luzira prisons.

Scarred by several years of legal battles, Kazinda capitulation over the years has manifested itself in different forms.

When he was first charged at the Anti- Corruption Court in early 2013, with 18 charges, including abuse of office, embezzlement, causing financial loss of more than Shs316m, Kazinda who was always sporting classy suits, was represented by a battery of expensive lawyers, who included criminal law giant MacDosman Kabega and his partner Tom Magezi, Augustine Obilil Idoot and Isaac Walukagga of MMAKS Advocates. 

Geoffrey Kazinda (centre)   after being convicted at the Anti-Corruption Court in Kampala in 2013. PHOTO/ABUBAKER Lubowa

Nevertheless, by 2015, Kazinda, who, according to court filings by the IGG, at one time had a BMW, Mercedes Benz ML class, Dodge Saloon all valued at Shs769 m, seemed to have run out of money to pay lawyers and this came to the fore in an embarrassing manner.

 On the morning of December 8, 2015, Justice Lawrence Gidudu, the head of the Anti- Corruption Court, was in his office looking ahead to hearing one of the many cases Kazinda was battling with.

 But Ernest Kalibbala, who was representing Kazinda at the time, knocked on the judge’s office door.

Abandoned by lawyers

  Mr Kalibbala, a partner at AF Mpanga Advocates, one of the leading law firms in the country, was forthright with the judge: Kazinda wasn’t paying him and as a result, he was quitting the case.

Once Mr Kalibbala quit, Justice Gidudu, who was now pretending he didn’t know about the fallout, asked Kazinda why his lawyer wasn’t in court.

A tranquil Kazinda responded: “My lawyer said he won’t be available in court today and for some time in future. He needs to sort out some issues.”

 Gidudu responded: “…Mr Kazinda, your lawyer [Kalibbala] has told me that he has exhausted his credit and his partners in the firm are accusing him of taking money home without telling them.”

 “They [Kalibbala’s partners] hear that he is representing Kazinda yet he doesn’t bring any money. They think you are paying him well, whereas not. He [Kalibbala] effectively told me that he has stepped down from this case for good,” the judge added.

When he had just been charged, Kazinda’s relatives and friends would fill the courtrooms but at this point, they had varnished one after the other, never to be seen again.

Police raid one of Kazinda’s homes in Bukoto, Kampala, on July 23, 2012.   PHOTO/ABUBAKER Lubowa

 “I’m having challenges because my family no longer comes to see me; so, I cannot get money. But I need some time; this will be sorted out,” a downcast Kazinda told the judge of his financial struggles.

Lawyers Kalibbala, Kabega, Idoot and Walukagga weren’t the only ones who left Kazinda once economic hardships set in. 

Mr Richard Omongole, the lawyer, who drafted the constitutional petition Kazinda filed challenging the charges, had stopped representing him, citing differences they had in how they will execute his client’s defence.

Mr Ambrose Tebyasa, who stepped in after Omongole, didn’t last long either.

The decision by lawyers to abandon Kazinda didn’t go down well with Isaac Kimaze Ssemakkade - a lawyer who has made pro bono his forte- who argued that Rule 3 of the Advocates Act stipulates that an advocate must see the client’s case to conclusion unless discharged by the client or duly permitted by the court to withdraw.

“This rule is intended to maintain people’s trust that their lawyers will stick with them through thick and thin,” Mr Ssemakadde argued.  

While he was struggling to get lawyers largely due to financial constraints, Kazinda was serving the five-year term handed to him in 2013 by Justice David Katosi Wangutusi, who found him guilty of 29 counts of abuse of office, making documents without authority, forgery and unlawful possession of government stores.

The details, as purported by the State, were that Kazinda had concocted the signature of his boss, Mr Pius Bigirimana, the then Permanent Secretary at OPM.

He intended to steal billions of shillings, it was claimed.

But the DPP was unrelenting, he kept on filing more charges at the Anti-corruption Court and they were all related to Kazinda’s time at the OPM. 

 In 2013, the DPP had separately charged him.  Kazinda is charged jointly with three former officials from the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development over diverting public fund amounting to Shs20b. 

Kazinda was charged along with former Finance ministry officials Wilbert Okello (principal system analyst), David Mugisha (senior economist) and Bright Atwine (senior accountant).

This case was heard but the DPP, who had second thoughts, withdrew it. He replaced it with 69 charges of misappropriation of more than Shs5.4b meant for post-war reconstruction in northern Uganda and Karamoja sub-region.

 This case, too, was partially heard and later withdrawn by the DPP.

 As these charges were being withdrawn by the DPP, in 2016, the IGG‘s prosecutors decided to institute own charges, which included forgery, accumulating abnormal wealth or illicit enrichment and financial loss.

As the charges were being withdrawn and new ones filed, Kazinda’s constitutional petition he filed in 2014 asking the court to stop his prosecution on grounds that the cases instituted are based on similar facts was gathering dust.

 The crux of Kazinda’s case was simple; prosecution should have charged him with all these offences in one go since they arise out of the same series of events. 

The DPP insisted that the charges were legal under Article 120 of the Constitution which empowers his office to institute charges anytime.

He added that the various charges against Kazinda stemmed from different facts and transactions, and that he had been charged with different people.       

His efforts seeking the Anti- Corruption Court to halt his trial until the Constitutional Court determines his petition fell on deaf ears as Justice Margaret Tibulya in Kazinda’s words “turned herself into the Constitutional Court and directed the matter to be tried.” 

 Since he had no money to hire lawyers, Kazinda decided to defend himself.

 Without legal representation to guide him, Kazinda struggled to cross-examine witnesses, who were pinning him in a case in which he was accused of abuse of office and causing financial loss of more than Shs316m, together with   Beatrice Kezabu, the former OPM assistant resettlement officer, Shamim Masembe, the proprietor of Total Fuel Station in Ntinda, and Hussein Katumwa, the station manager.

 Kazinda also struggled to defend himself against those particular charges.

 No sooner had   Kazinda completed his five-year jail sentence handed to him by Justice Wangutusi than Justice Gidudu handed him another five-year jail term for being the mastermind of theft of Shs316m, which apparently was meant for the post-war reconstruction scheme in northern Uganda and Karamoja sub-region under the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan.

 “It has been proved that Kazinda was the architect and master planner of the theft,” Justice Gidudu ruled as he also convicted Kazinda’s co-accused Kezabu, Masembe and Katumwa.

Despite the conviction, Kazinda continued representing himself even when the State was willing to offer him, lawyers, free of charge and this soon bore some fruit. 

1n 2019, long after he had served the five years Justice Wangutusi had handed him, Kazinda was acquitted by the Court of Appeal Justices Geoffrey Kiryabwire, Stephen Musota, and Percy Night Tuhaise.

The trio trashed Justice Wangutusi’s judgment, saying there was no evidence adduced by the prosecutors to prove the charges.  They also took a swipe at the police.

 “Before we take leave of this appeal, we wish to express our displeasure at the poor conduct of investigations in this case. The investigations were bungled and lacked professionalism. It left a lot to be desired,” they ruled.

 Moment of glory

Kazinda’s biggest moment of glory came early this year when the Constitutional Court nullified a plethora of graft -related charges against him.

Four of the five justices agreed with Kazinda that many of the charges against him were unlawful since they were related to the initial case in which he was convicted by Justice Wangutusi.

 “These offences, in my view, fall well within the definition of offences of the same character and could adequately have been joined in one trial.  The numerous trial for offences similar in character amount to a deprivation of the right to a fair hearing and contravenes Articles 28(1) and (9) of the constitution,” Justice Stephen Musota, who wrote the lead judgment which was supported by justices Geoffrey Kiryabwire, Cheborion Barishaki and Ezekiel Muhanguzi, ruled.

“A declaration that the acts of the DPP splitting and sequentially initiating charges of offences founded on the same facts within different cases against the petitioner before his conviction contravened Articles 28 (1), 28 (3), (c) and 120 (5) of the Constitution,” Justice Musota ruled.

On the flipside, Justice Musota clarified that the case in which the IGG was accusing  Kazinda of having illicit wealth would go ahead since it wasn’t of the same character as the ones instituted by the DPP. 

This gave Justice Tibulya the green light to determine the case, which consequently saw Kazinda jailed for 15 years.

Justice Tibulya agreed with the IGG that between 2009 and 2012, serving as the Principal Accountant at the OPM, Kazinda was enjoying a standard of living way above his known sources of income and in the process, he acquired and amassed wealth amounting to  more than Shs4.6b.

Though he was earning Shs84 million per month, filings by the government ombudsman showed that Kazinda owned a number sports cars, rented Constellation suites in Nakasero, Kampala for 10 months at Shs210m, had three plots of land in Bukoto in Kampala valued at Shs3.6b.

 Kazinda’s defence was simple: The property was partly owned by his family and he also worked.

 “The convict has not learnt anything to date. He is not even willing to give up the property he owned through illicit enrichment,” said Justice Tibulya before ordering that Kazinda’s property be confiscated. 

The four out of the five Justices agreed with Kazinda that many of charges against him were unlawful.

Issue: Illicit wealth

Though he was earning Shs84 million per month, filings by the government ombudsman showed that Kazinda owned a number sports cars, rented Constellation suites in Nakasero for 10months at Shs210m, had three plots of land in Bukoto valued at Shs3.6 b.

 Current state of one of Geoffrey Kazinda’s houses in Bukoto, Kampala. PHOTO/Stephen Otage

 Kazinda’s defence was simple: The property was partly owned by his family and he also worked.

Possibility of fresh charges

Asked if they anticipate bringing fresh charges against Kazinda,  IGG spokesperson Ali Munira said they were through with Kazinda.

“Those were the only charges that we had against Kazinda. We aren’t cooking anything new,” Ms Munira said.

 When asked the same, the DPP spokesperson, Ms  Jacquelyn Okui,  said they will wait until the Supreme Court determines their appeal in which they are challenging the Constitutional Court judgment that quashed all charges they had against him. 

“We had other charges against Kazinda here [DPP’s office] but we can’t file them in court in light of that judgment. So we shall wait until the Supreme Court rules,” Ms Okui said