Kutesa’s gift donation was not a bribe, says Attorney General
The humiliation of the Fountain of Honour and his brother-in-law Sam Kutesa before a US court where their pictures were displayed as exhibits in a bribery scandal mean nothing. What matters, the AG has decided, is nothing. Absolutely nothing.
CORRUPTION | Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa has no case to answer in as far as allegations of receiving a bribe from a Chinese national to grant unfavourable business advantages is concerned, the Attorney General has said.
While presenting the tentative result of the probe into the allegations against Kutesa, William Byaruhanga said the minister has never been accused or suspected in any criminal matter, closed or ongoing.
“[Patrick Chi-Ping] Ho was convicted by the US Court on December 4, but charges against his co-accused, a one Cheikh Gadio from Senegal, were dropped in September 2018. while it is true that Kutesa’s name is mentioned in the indictment and featured in the course of the trial, he was or is not an accused or suspect in any criminal matter, closed or ongoing,” Byaruhanga said.
The AG’s interim probe report, however. appears contradictory to itself as well as the fact on the ground.
Ho, a former Hong Kong minister at the centre of the bribery scandal, was earlier this month convicted by New York jury of offering millions of dollars in bribes to African leaders, including Minister Kutesa and President Museveni who pocketed $500,000 (about Shs2 billion) in cash and kind.
The indictment before the US jury, before him photos of Museveni and Kutesa were presented as “exhibits” as the prosecution sought to have a witness identify the two recipients of the bribe, says Ho separately arranged a “gift” to be delivered to Museveni in 2016.
The US alleges that Kutesa’s $500,000 was wired from a New York-based bank to an account in Uganda for a fake charity, adding money laundering to the bribe charges against Ho, who is also understood to have given a gift to President Museveni during his 2016 swearing in ceremony.
Ho allegedly paid the bribes to illegally secure lucrative rights in the oil industry in Chad on behalf of giant energy conglomerate CEFC China Energy Co., a private Shanghai-based company.
On December 10, the day Museveni instructed Byaruhanga to probe Kutesa, he told the nation that he had spoken to Kutesa, who did admitted to receiving the money but that had claimed that it was a gift donation to his charity.
However, the idea that the money was a donation has ignited queries on the manner it has been handled, with former Bukooli Central MP Wafula Oguttu raising concerns on whether Kutesa had declared the “gift donation” to the Inspector General of Government.
The IGG said it had not received any declaration of the gifts from Kutesa as per the Leadership Code of Conduct.
The president’s decision to investigate Kutesa using the attorney general did not go down well with a section of legislators, who said Museveni is a party to the bribery scandal and a family member with Kutesa.
Kutesa, who has since been sued by Brian Atuheire, a private citizen seeking for the High Court to declare the minister unfit to hold a public office and order a criminal prosecution, is President Museveni’s brother-in-law.
The protest was fronted by Paul Mwiru (Jinja East) who requested Speaker Rebecca Kadaga to have a Parliament Select Committee set up to investigate the allegations other than Parliament having to rely on a report by the Attorney General who could be conflicted.
Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga County) wondered why Kutesa was still in office amid the scandal and his partner in crime being found guilty in the US.
And it appears their fears have come to pass even before the New Year, giving Kutesa a blanket cheque to enjoy his festive season without any anxiety about what may.
AG Byaruhanga he had obtained, studied and internalized the indictment papers for Patrick Ho, as well as had the embattled minister explain himself in writing on December 17.
“Since the allegations relate to international transfers of cash, I requested the Financial Intelligence Authority to provide information on the wire transfers referred to in the indictment. Stanbic Bank, through which Kutesa is said to have received the payment, also provided information on the transaction,” he said.
He said Kutesa and wife Edith Gasana are directors in a company limited by guarantee known as Food Security and Energy Sustainability Foundation. The Foundation, he added, is a lawfully registered Ugandan entity, incorporated in July 24, 2015.
“It’s alleged that the Foundation received a sum of US$499,993 on May 9, 2016, from a Hong Kong-based NGO known as China Energy Fund Committee. The money was a donation to the Food Security and Energy, Sustainability Foundation which Kutesa and his wife started as a vehicle for enabling the minister to continue to champion some of the causes he had spearheaded during his tenure as the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations with respect to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals,” the AG said.
Byaruhanda said it is an established tradition for presidents of the General Assembly pursue such causes upon leaving office.
However, while the AG discusses the matter of the Foundation in present tense, the affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Thomas McNulty before the US jury shows that it does not exist.
Agent McNulty said the website for Foundation was pulled down and the address given on a headed paper in email correspondences between Edith Gasana and Ho was far from true as an agent he dispatched to the location could not find any Foundation.
Byaruhanga, however, assured that he is still carrying out investigation into the matter and to engage with various other agencies and he expects to render a full report to President Museveni within two months.