Pension scam: Ex-ministry officials, city lawyer jailed

By Betty Amamukirori

Jimmy Lwamafa, Christopher Obey, Stephen Kiwanuka Kunsa and Bob Kasango have 14 days to appeal.

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PIC: From left, city lawyer Bob Kasango and Jimmy Lwamafa arriving at the Anti-Corruption Court in Kololo for judgement day. They would later in the day be sentenced to jail. (Photo credit: Abbey Ramadhan)

FRAUD


KAMPALA -  Three former ministry of public service top officials and city lawyer Bob Kasango were Friday sentenced to jail after being convicted over the theft of sh15bn that was meant for pensioners.

The ex-ministry officials are Jimmy Lwamafa (permanent secretary), Christopher Obey (principal accountant) and Stephen Kiwanuka Kunsa (director of pensions).

Obey was given 14 years while Lwamafa and Kunsa each got nine years.

Lawyer Kasango of Marble Law Firm was sentenced to 16 years behind bars.

They were all sent to Luzira prison after their sentencing late Friday afternoon following a period of mitigation by the defence lawyers.

During the mitigation session, the lawyers stood up to plead for leniency for their clients. Kasango represented himself.

Lwamafa was represented by Evans Ochieng, Obey by Nsubuga Mubiru and Kunsa by John Isabirye.

Consultations involving defence lawyers and their clients



Justice Margaret Tibulya presided over an unsually fully-packed court session at the Anti-corruption Court in Kampala.

In the run-up to judgement day, two court assessors - who are assigned to give a layman's opinion on the case - found the prosecution case lacking and asked court to set the four accused men free.

But in her judgement on the morning of Friday, the judge dashed their hopes of regaining freedom when she found them guilty of all the 21 counts.

They were found guilty of diversion of funds, fraud, forgery, theft and conspiracy to defraud government funds.

Lwamafa, Kunsa and Obey have been serving another jail sentence for diverting sh88b that was meant for payment of pensions.  In this sentence, Obey has 10 years, Lwamafa seven and Kunsa five.

Kasango was majorly convicted over a recording that was given to court by Justice Eudes Keitirima, of a conversation between him and Kasango on the forgeries.

The lawyer was asking the judge to help him cover the forgeries so he can get money from Government.

The forged court documents were a bill of costs and certificate of order purportedly issued in the Charles Abola case and 6,337 ex-servicemen who had sued Government demanding their pension.

The bill of costs of the case has never been taxed to-date and no order of payment made. 

Tibulya relied heavily on the evidence of Keitirima, city lawyer John Matovu and principal state attorney George Kalemera. Matovu and Kalemera handled the Charles Abola case.

Kasango had been on remand ever since court ruled that he had a case to answer.




Below is how the lawyers pleaded for their clients:

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LAWYERS PLEAD FOR THEIR CLIENTS


Lwamafa: 'Long sentence may be catastrophic'

Lwamafa's lawyer, Evans Ochieng, has asked for leniency.

"Lwamafa has wife and children. Take into account his advanced age - he is soon making 70 years of age."

"He is no longer holding a public office, so he cannot be considered to be a threat," pleaded Ochieng.

He pleaded further: "Consider that from March 2016, Lwamafa has been on remand.  Take note that there is nothing to suggest that he benefited from the money."

"Lwamafa handled these transactions in the course of his work.  There is nothing to suggest that he was part of the forgery of documents used.  Find that these factors outweigh the aggravating factors.

"Exercise your sentence and find that the two years the old man has spent on remand are sufficient. A long sentence may not only be catastrophic to his health but to his family," said Ochieng.

"He has not amassed  any wealth. There is no evidence to show that he is holding lavish accounts, notwithstanding that he was presiding over huge amounts."


Obey: 'He didn't gain anything'

Nsubuga Mubiru, Obey's lawyer, pleaded for leniency.

"The offences committed were for a reason of him doing what he was supposed to do. He did not receive any benefit from the sh15bn.

"No evidence to suggest that he was aware that the court orders had irregularities.  He did not gain anything from the exercise.

"He has been on remand for over two years. He has a very young family," said Mubiru.

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Kunsa: 'Wife has cancer'

Kunsa's lawyer John Isabirye, also made his case.

"Exercise great leniency towards the accused. From the judgment, it's clear that the offences for which Kunsa has been convicted, there is no direct participation by him.

"Kunsa is sickly. Several applications were made and in your rulings, you confirmed that indeed Kunsa is of ill health," pleaded Isabirye.

"He is a family man with a wife suffering from cancer.

"He has children who are school going - two in university. It is his duty to pay school fees because his wife is not working. 

"Kunsa is a responsible citizen of this country. He was the head of laity at St.  Agnes Church in McKinney of over 40,000 people. He was the chairperson of Kisubi Seminary governing board and the chairperson of St. Agnes S.S.' governing board.

"He was also the chairperson of St. Cecilia choir in Kibuye, Makindye," said Isabirye.

"Kunsa is 60 years old - he has hit retirement age while in prison.  He was already dismissed from his job, which is punishment enough.

"In prison,  he is still continuing with works that glorify the Lord,  that suggest that he embraced humanity. In prison, he is a head catechist with over 1,000 inmates under him. 

"He is the secretary of the human rights committee in Luzira - in charge of over 3,000 inmates. This is a clear demonstration that he is God-fearing. Convict him either to a caution or fine.

"He has already taken his lessons."

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Kasango: 'I wear my defence as a crown'

"I pleaded not guilty. When I testified in defence,  I took the Bible on my right hand - the only right hand I have - and swore to tell the truth and asked God to help me and told God the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

"This is your court and you are the judge, your word is law, mine an opinion," said Kasango.

"This morning, you convicted me on several accounts. I am duty-bound both as a lawyer and a citizen to respect your decision, and I do. But I am not duty-bound to agree. 

"I very respectfully disagree with your findings.  I listened attentively  to your analysis of the facts and the law I have listened to the submission of the prosecution on sentencing.

"On another day, I would have said I am remorseful, but the word 'remorse' is not an admission of guilt.  I will never yield to my accusers if I didn't do wrong.  And I wear my defence as a crown and proudly so.  It's not out of tranziness but out of a very clear conscience that I address you," said Kasango.

"As an example in your judgement, you dismissed the emails that I received from [John] Matovu to his brother,  forwarding the court orders to my office and you stated it was another effort at falsifying docs. 

"If I say I'm remorseful, it will mean that I'm admitting falsifying documents. 

"As God knows I never falsify documents.  The court provided me a projector,  internet connection and I opened my email in the presence of everyone present. I opened emails exchanged in 2011. It is technologically impossible that I could have inserted Matovu's email including the attachments. 

"I hope you can appreciate why I disagree with you on this."

"John Matovu, under oath, told court that he never asked his brother to give me the emails. That was contradicted by his brother. In your evaluation, you found him truthful of such crucial and glaring lies.

"In all my life, I had never seen Lwamafa and Kunsa.  I met them in court but the court has convicted me of conspiring with them.  I respect that, my lord, but I will go to my grave protesting my innocence."


Kasango: 'My heart and conscience are clear'

"I would have addressed you on circumstances of my health, but I will not go in details. Every day I live and breath by the grace of God. Before I was indicted, I had spent the better part out of the country. 

"But each time the Police required me to interact with them I bought air tickets from US to come and interact with them. This investigation lasted two years, they sent me summons asking me to appear and take plea. At that time, I was in South Africa, but I dutifully returned.

"I could have absconded from jurisdiction. I have dutifully attended every single day of this court except when I was bedridden.

"What is it that makes our conscience clear? Is it our minds? Is it our hearts? My heart is clear and my conscience is clear about what I did and did not do in this case.

"I beseech you to understand when I say I am resisting from using the word remorse - because every single thing that I did and say was the truth.

"The letter of [Justice minister Gen. Kahinda] Otaffire was a personal letter to his fellow minister of finance at my behest. I would have told that I have young children, haven't worked in the last three years of this case but that would be admitting guilt. 

"I would have told you that the DPP investigated my wealth and found nothing.  They wrote to every bank about me, about my family and found nothing.

"I would have told you that I have not worked for all that long due to ill-health and this case. I decided  to represent myself in this case not because I think I know, but because I cannot afford legal representation.

"I never forged any document, never conspired with anybody and never stole any money.  You have the discretion,  I urge you to exercise your discretion in view of the submission  I have made," concluded Kasango.

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What next

Stephen Kiwanuka Kunsa (left) and Lwamafa at court on Friday



After their sentencing, the convicts have 14 days to appeal - to the Court of Appeal.

Kasango has already expressed his dissatisfaction with the judgement and is going to appeal.

The jailed men have to refund the sh15bn. Kasango (sh5bn) and the other three sh3.4bn each.