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Opinion: Someone stole Shs478bn from BoU using Crane Bank and why Cosase won’t probe this theft

So, why is Abdu Katuntu and Anita Among investigating the closure of seven commercial banks and not focusing on the sale of a bank where Shs478 billion was reportedly injected in from undisclosed account in BoU? Because, if they investigate that, it will cause trouble. In fact, BoU should be seriously audited.

COMMENTARY | RONALD MUHINDA

I am one person that has never been convinced that Crane Bank collapsed. The Crane Bank saga, to my mind, is a classic case of sophisticated robbery of public funds gone wrong. How?

Did any depositor/customer with Crane Bank lose a single shilling? Did Crane Bank shareholders (whoever they are) lose money before the Bank went down? Was the Crane Bank reserve completely depleted? Was the Crane Bank regulatory capital wiped out before the bank was grabbed?

As far as I know, and I have asked several people and economists, there is not a single Uganda depositing with Crane Bank that lost money. Or at least I have not been told any. Similarly, no Crane Bank shareholder (if there were any that is not Sudhir Ruparelia) lost money/shares/dividends before the grab. So who is the complaint in the case of Crane Bank?

The complaint is Bank of Uganda that claimed at the time Crane Bank was being put under receivership that the bank was “haemorrhaging” capital. At the time, I was at Bank of Uganda Presser and Emmanuel Mutebile refused to take questions. I insisted to ask him how Crane Bank was losing money and he said “I will not take questions. He was assisted to walk away by his aides.

But before, BoU had claimed that they had injected Shs478 billion in Crane Bank as “liquidity support” to keep it operational because they claimed, Crane Bank’s capital (I believe Regulatory Capital) had “fallen below the 50 per cent legal requirement under the law.”

That Shs478 billion, I suspect, is the source of all trouble. If you read the Auditor General report, the Shs478 billion was withdrawn from an undisclosed account in bank of Uganda in 2016 and took the money to Crane Bank Ltd under cover of liquidity support. The AG says he was unable to verify and review the approved requests for liquidity support, the payments made to Crane Bank Bonafide account holders or respective beneficiaries using injected funds.

Do you smell theft?

The reason AG cannot verify and review requests from Crane Bank to BoU for liquidity support of Shs478 billion and cannot establish who benefited is because, probably, they don’t exist. The reason BoU got Shs478 billion from unspecified account is because, probably it was theft of public funds. That is where it all begins.

In Uganda, it’s only the Auditor General that doesn’t forge reports. The Auditor General’s office is the most credible institution in Uganda. It is why you will hardly hear anyone accusing the AG of bias. Other institutions can fail to investigate the AG findings/queries and implement recommendations but they do their job. The AG did a good job on Crane Bank Ltd Vs BoU.

Now, this case has completely exposed how clueless or complicit journalists in Uganda can be about financial crime in this country.

With the Auditor General saying in a report that unsolicited Shs478 billion moved from undisclosed account in BoU to Crane Bank as liquidity support and yet there is no evidence that Crane Bank requested for liquidity support, that would have immediately became a case of theft or money laundering. None of those is being investigated. None.

When the money left BoU and reached Crane Bank, what happened? AG has no records/evidence to show who benefited. My suspicion is that, that in fact, I suspect, Sudhir Ruparelia’s crime. He probably stole it.

And that money, I suspect, disappeared with AR (I don’t know what initials mean) Kalani. Kalani, at the time of disappearance, reportedly went with Shs300 billion. To this day, there has never been an International warrant for arrest issued against Kalani. He is a free man.

What I cannot know and probably, we may not know soon, is whether the Shs478 billion that left undisclosed account in BoU was a case of political theft or insider deal in BoU. But it’s either. Sudhir had to pay. He had to lose the bank as punishment. So, to me, it looks like Sudhir is accused by the thief of stealing his loot. Simple.

I am convinced that Sudhir knows the truth which he has not shared with the public but it all shows in his ability to fight an ugly battle, well knowing that he will not reclaim the bank. It could get uglier, if it has to be.

When BoU was selling Crane Bank to dfcu, a bank that was valued at about Shs1 trillion, dfcu acquired it for only Shs200 billion. But Sudhir was smart, that he separated the banks properties and gave them away to Meera Investments. Dfcu took over Crane Bank deposits and loans. Of course, Sudhir handed over collateral/security of the Crane Bank loans, implying that with dfcu having collateral of the loans they were taking over, it was sure of recovering the money.

In truth, all accounts of Crane Bank customers were transferred to dfcu with their full balances. No one lost money. That is what they call receivership.

So, why is Abdu Katuntu and Anita Among investigating the closure of seven commercial banks and not focusing on the sale of a bank where Shs478 billion was reportedly injected in from undisclosed account in BoU? Because, if they investigate that, it will cause trouble. In fact, BoU should be seriously audited.

How much money did BoU inject in Greenland Bank Uganda, which collapsed because Sulaiman Kiggundu had been duped by the second most powerful General in the UPDF to commit money into buying UCB using a fake company from Malaysia called Westmont?

The billions Kiggundu invested in the fake company ended up in Kisozi. Kiggundu’s Greenland Bank collapsed but Tanzania branch remained operational. He died an angry man. UCB was later given to Standard Bank of South Africa.

Did BoU ever inject money in National Bank of Commerce, Teefe and others that collapsed? No. So why is Cosase [Parliament committee chaired by MP Katuntu] investigating them? They are a cover up for the Shs478 billion injected in Crane Bank but stolen.

So have Cosase MPs been compromised as alleged? I believe yes. Why? My suspicion is that either Sudhir Ruparelia wants to clean his name (he knows how the 478bn disappeared) or cover up theft and money laundering in BoU.

So what is the way forward? Forget the collapse of the seven banks. Focus on the origin and whereabouts of the Shs478bn. But I know the MPs led by Abdu Katuntu and Anita Among will let the 478bn remain the biggest financial cover up. I also know by the time the report is out and presented, the findings will be vague. I propose that this matter be re-investigated after a report is presented.

And I suspect Sudhir is playing all cards on his chest. If this saga doesn’t get messy to a point of people losing life, I suspect Sudhir, if pushed on the wall, will make revelations or disclosures that will be shocking to some Ugandans and normal to some of us. It is exactly why all Sudhir/Crane Bank Vs BoU cases are either heard in camera or settled out of court.

Finally, to my fellow journalists, stop sharing on the remaining 100bn to confuse the public. It has completely confused you.

The truth is someone was stealing Shs478 billion from BoU using Crane Bank as a conduit. Probably when it reached Crane Bank, it got stolen. Period.

This article was first published on the writer’s Facebook wall

Ronald Muhinda is a former Parliament reporter

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