Rights watchdog sues DPP over Basajjabalaba corruption case

Hassan Basajjabalaba

Months after the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Jane Frances Abodo dropped the multibillion-shilling corruption charges against businessman Hassan Basajjabalaba and his younger brother Muzamiru Basajjabalaba, Legal Brains Trust (LBT)—a Kampala-based democracy and human rights watchdog—has dashed to the High court’s Anti-Corruption division, asking it to compel the DPP to reinstate the charges.

In the suit, LBT wants the court to declare the court proceedings the DPP leaned on to let the Basajjabalaba brothers walk free as “secretive,” which infringed or threatened a bundle of rights enshrined in articles 28(1), 28(5), 29(1)(a), and 44(c) of the Constitution, and are, therefore, unlawful and invalid.

In January 2013, Hassan Basajjabalaba was arrested and spent some days in Luzira prison. He was charged in the Anti-Corruption court with evading Shs 20 billion in taxes.

The Basajjabalaba brothers were charged with three counts of conspiracy to defeat tax law, forgery of a judicial document, and uttering a false document. The prosecution alleged that Hassan Basajjabalaba, also chairman of Haba Group (U) Limited, conspired with his younger brother, Muzamiru, to evade taxes amounting to Shs 20.1bn arising from a government compensation payment to Haba Group.

They allegedly committed the offences between 2010 and 2011 in Kampala. Haba Group was compensated Shs 142 billion after the government cancelled its purchase of Nakasero, Shauriyako, and St. Balikuddembe markets as well as the Constitution Square.

Basajjabalaba is also accused of forging a consent judgment on Oc- tober 6, 2010. The judgment was purportedly entered into by Haba Group, as a plaintiff, and the Attorney General, as the defendant, agreeing that the latter’s payments to the former of Shs 142bn would not be subject to any levies, whereas the award was subject to tax laws.

The prosecution further alleged that in 2011, in the High court case of Haba versus the Commissioner General of Uganda Revenue Authority, Basajjabalaba fraudulently uttered the said consent judgment. The case stalled when the two brothers dashed to the Constitutional court and got an injunction that temporarily stayed their trial.

Now LBT says that the Constitutional court and the Supreme court threw out the petition that Basajjabalaba had used to challenge the trial, but the organization accuses the DPP and the registrar of the Anti-Corruption court of unjustifiably delaying or refusing to cause the resumption of prosecution and expedited trial of the two brothers, despite having gotten the greenlight from the apex court more than a year ago, on November 19, 2021.

In her affidavit in support of the suit, Isabella Nakiyonga, a legal officer with LBT, says on December 5, 2022, the registrar of the Anti- Corruption court was forced to notify her organization that the DPP had withdrawn the charges “by way of a nolle prosequi [an entry in the court record to the effect that the plaintiff or prosecutor will not proceed] dated August 30, 2022,” which was presented to the court on October 6, 2022, whereupon “a notification of the discharge was issued to the accused persons on October 7, 2022.”

“The alleged proceedings of Oc- tober 6 and October 7, 2022, were unjustifiably impromptu, in camera, and ex parte. Moreover, they are blatantly inchoate and therefore null and void,” Nakiyonga says in her affidavit.

She further says that on December 15, 2022, LBT petitioned the DPP, outlining its contentions and grievances and the redress sought in relation to Basajjabalaba’s corruption case, but she says the contentions were uncontroverted and grievances unredressed.

“The first respondent [Jane Frances Abodo] did not even contact the applicant’s [ LBT] personnel to acknowledge the complaint, yet she found time to discuss the matters raised by the applicant in the news media,” Nakiyonga says in her affidavit.

On account of the foregoing, Nakiyonga says that she knows that both the DPP and the Attorney General, who was listed as the second re- respondent in the suit, have unjustifiably delayed, derailed, prevented, or otherwise frustrated the continuation of the trial at issue, in breach of their respective constitutional obligations.

Specifically, LBT wants the High Court to direct the DPP and the registrar of the Anti-Corruption Court to issue summonses requiring the personal attendance of the Basajjabalabas and the witnesses that the DPP had earlier listed in the case to attend the trial not later than two weeks from the date of the court’s ruling.

“An order expediting trial in this court’s criminal case No. 3 of 2013 [Uganda v. Hassan Basajjabalaba and Muzamiru Basajjabalaba], including the suspension of any matter or matters pending before it and sitting from day to day (even beyond 5 p.m.), including on Saturday, Sunday, and public holidays,” the suit demands in one of the prayers.

In the aftermath of dropping the charges, the DPP came under attack from LBT’s chief executive officer, Isaac Ssemakadde. She told the media that she would reinstate the case, but she didn’t give specific dates.

The case has not yet been scheduled for hearing.

Source: The Observer

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