Microfinance bosses charged over sh10b SACCOs funds saga
Four Microfinance Support Centre (MSC) bosses, including the executive director, have been charged and remanded to Kitalya Prison over theft of sh10.8b meant for the teachers’ Savings and Credit Organisation Societies (SACCOS).
The money was given to the teachers by President Yoweri Museveni as a grant in 2011.
The accused are John Peter Mujuni, 51, executive director John Mwebembezi, 51, the head of finance and administration, Joan Asiimwe Baryaruha, 52, a teacher and Julia Birungi, 27, a lawyer and the assistant credit officer.
The accused denied the charges of embezzlement and conspiracy to defraud when they appeared before the Anti-Corruption Court Grade One Magistrate, Moses Nabende, yesterday (September, 08 2020).
The offence of embezzlement attracts a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonement, upon conviction, while conspiracy to defraud attracts three years in jail.
The magistrate said he would issue a ruling on their bail application on Friday when they are expected back in court.
Nabende said the ruling will be delivered via video conferencing and directed the sureties to be present in court.
Prosecution alleges that Mujuni, Mwebembezi and Birungi, between November 2019 and August 2020, stole the sh10.8b, a grant from the President, meant for the teachers loan fund.
The four, during the same period at Uganda Microfinance Support Centre in Kampala, allegedly conspired to defraud the Government of sh10b.
Defence lawyer Bernard Namanya requested court to grant Mujuni bail on grounds that he suffers from diabetes.
He submitted the accused’s medical report to the court.
His sureties were Roger Erunga Kaifa, the Public Service Commission under secretary; Joseph Nuwabiine, the senior principal auditor attached to the Auditor General’s Office; Martin Mbonye, a lecturer at the School of Statistics and Planning, Makerere University and Richard Ndikobyayo, an employee with the works ministry.
Lawyer Renato Kania submitted that the accused have never been tried and convicted of any charge by court and that they are not a flight risk since the airport and borders are closed due to COVID-19.
He said the accused would not interfere with investigations since criminal proceedings trigger their interdiction from work.
State prosecutor Stanley Baine objected to the bail application, arguing that the accused allegedly embezzled colossal sums of money. In an affidavit sworn by AIP
Moses Kaweesa, attached to Criminal Investigations Department (CID), Kibuli, Kampala, Baine said investigations are not complete.
“The accused are likely to jeopardise efforts of the investigation team to recover the exhibits at their places of work, which is the scene of crime,” he said.
Baine also submitted that the accused have failed to demonstrate they have fixed places of abode within the jurisdiction of court.
He argued that some of the sureties were not substantial and asked court to consider the nature of accusations and gravity of the offence.
“If court is inclined to grant the accused bail, I pray for stringent terms, given the amount involved in this matter, to ensure the lost funds do not disappear.
However, I request court to deny the applicants bail for the interest of justice,” he appealed.
According to the Police investigations, Baryaruha reportedly mobilised teachers in 2010 to register a SACCOS with the commissioner in charge of cooperatives.
President Museveni launched the SACCOS at a function in Jinja district in 2011 and pledged sh25b to boost teachers’ pay.
Later, the finance ministry agreed to release the funds in a phased manner, of sh5b per year.
Although the money was subsequently disbursed, to date, nothing has been remitted to the intended beneficiaries.