Judge orders assessors to submit opinion in city lawyer Bob Kasango’s Shs15bn pension theft
FRAUD | Bob Kasango will next week know what lane of criminal liability he takes after a judge ordered court assessors to present their opinions in a case in which the city lawyer and three former officials from the Ministry of Public Service are accused of stealing Shs15.4 billion pension cash.
This is after the Anti-Corruption Court’s judge Margret Tibulya Tuesday gave two court assessors December 5 as the date they will give their opinion in the case that has taken about two years.
A court assessor is a lay person (not a lawyer) who is appointed to sit in and listen to criminal cases at High court level. At the end of the trial, they advise court to either acquit or convict the suspect(s) depending on his or her evaluation of the evidence presented in court. The court assessors’ opinion is not binding on a judge.
This in particular case, Kasango’s co-accused include the three jailed former Ministry of Public Service officials; Jimmy Lwamafa, Christopher Obey and Stephen Kiwanuka Kunsa.
Kasango is accused of conspiring to forge a judicial document in order to steal pension cash amounting to Shs15.4 billion.
On the same charge sheet, Lwamafa, Obey and Kunsa are accused of diverting of public funds. Jointly all the accused are accused of conspiring to defraud public funds.
In 2016, Justice Lawrence Gidudu, the head of the Anti-Corruption Court, sentenced Lwamafa (former
permanent secretary) to seven years in prison; Obey (former principal accountant) 10 years; and Kiwanuka (former director of research and development) five years.
The judge also ordered the convicted officials to refund Shs50 billionn to the public coffers for having a hand in stealing Shs88 billion meant for pensioners.
Judge Tibulya said Kasango’s case emanates from judgment by now retired judge Musoke Kibuka in which he ruled in favour of 6,339 pensioners to get their retirement packages.
However, things turned bad when Kasango got involved at the level of taxation of costs. In Justice Kubuka’s judgment costs were awarded to only one lawyer. But Kasango during taxation claimed that the judge awarded in law what’s called “certificate of two counsels,” a decision that made him claim inflated costs.
Though Kasango claimed the there were taxation proceedings before the High court deputy registrar Keith Keitirima (now High Court judge), the judge testified in court, denying Kasango’s version.
To compound matters, for Kasango, even the George Kallemera, the state attorney from the Attorney General’s chambers, who was supposed to face off with Kasango during the taxation hearings, testified that indeed that taxation proceedings up to-date have never taken off.
Justice Tibulya told the two assessors that what Kasango hasn’t denied is that the Shs15.4 billion was deposited on the accounts of his now defunct Marble Law Firm but his defence is simple: the money was rightly given to him as result of a valid court order.
Another defence by Kasango is that the money never belonged to the public but to his clients.
Kasango, the judge told the assessors that he vehemently denies forging the signature of Keitirima citing the evidence of handwriting expert.
This handwriting expert told court how Keitirima’s signature is similar if not the same as that on the document that Kasango used to get the money. In his deposition, Keitirima insisted that Kasango forged his signature.
“On the forgery charge,” the judge told the assessors, “prosecution must prove that the document was made by the accused person.”
Opinions from the street, press or anybody, for that matter, justice Tibulya warned the assessors that shouldn’t influence their resolutions.
“You must decide which evidence to accept or to reject,” Justice Tibulya the deputy head of the Anti-corruption court said. “You are free to reject my comments unless they coincide with your views…”