For one-and-a-half years, a Commissioner in the Ministry of Education and two others faced charges related to the illegal possession of Ugandan passports.
Five prosecution witnesses, including the Passport Control Officer (PCO) of the Passports Office in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, testified in favour of the State, and after the prosecution had presented its case, the presiding Chief Magistrate ruled that all three accused persons had a case to answer on all the charges.
But, after 25 appearances in court, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) suddenly stopped the trial.
This decision came after several complaints by the accused Commissioner, Mr. George Wirefred Opiro to different state officials.
The Commissioner complained about the detective constable and other police officers who handled the case and the investigating officer was transferred from Gulu to Arua.
He also complained against the prosecutors, resulting in three different prosecutors handling the case.
The office of the Administrator General, where the offence was allegedly committed, was also the subject of a complaint; just like the main prosecution witness and her partner, who the Commissioner said “were after his life”.
Difficult Meeting with the DPP
Mrs Julie Luwera, the main prosecution witness, is disappointed with the decision of the DPP, Mr. Mike Chibita, to withdraw the case.
She said: ”I paid for my travel from London on a number of occasions to testify in support of the State’s case and all the DPP does in return is to withdraw the case? The evidence is all there. There are two Congolese nationals claiming to be Ugandan and they told the police and the court that they are Congolese.
What was wrong with the DPP letting the court decide whether the accused were guilty or not?
After all, the court had already ruled that the accused should defend themselves. Why didn’t the DPP give the court the chance to complete its process?”
Mrs Luwera, her son and her family lawyer, had what she described as “a complex” meeting with Mr. Chibita about the case on July 11.
Mrs Luwera said she put it to Mr. Chibita that he had withdrawn the case because Mr. Vincent Opiyo Lukone, head of Public Service and the Deputy Head of Cabinet, had advised him to withdraw the case.
Mrs Luwera said the DPP admitted that Vincent Opiyo Lukone had indeed been to his office and mentioned the case and he told Vincent Opiyo Lukone to tell Mr. Opiro to put his complaint in writing.
However, according to Mrs Luwera, the DPP denied being influenced by Vincent Opiyo Lukone, saying his office has power to withdraw cases.
Asked whether it was true that Mr. Lukone had gone to his office to ask that the case be dropped, Mr. Chibita was reported as having said ‘’My office is open to all members of the public, including permanent secretaries”.
Mrs Luwera said that Mr. Chibita confirmed during the meeting with her, her son and her lawyer that the case was over. “All I can tell you is to confirm that the matter was withdrawn in accordance with the powers of the DPP.”
The lawyer hired to advise Mrs Luwera and her children in the case says, however, that, whereas the DPP has the power to withdraw cases, “the decision should be purely based on the merits of the case and nothing else. In this case the DPP has taken a decision to withdraw what is clearly a good case.”
Mr. George Wirefred Opiro, the Commissioner for guidance and counseling in the Ministry of Education and Sports, was in early 2013 charged with two others in connection with the illegal possession of Ugandan passports.
Mr. Opiro’s co-accused – Ms Atim Claudine and a 16-year old schoolboy – are, according to Mrs Luwera, the principal state witness, nationals of DR Congo who illegally acquired Ugandan passports.
With the case against them now withdrawn, Mrs Luwera fears that the duo will retrieve their passports from the court and continue using them.
The passports of the duo, copies of which Red Pepper has obtained, purport to show that they are Acholi, born in Lacor Hospital, Gulu.
A records officer from the hospital, however, in court testimony had reportedly told the court that no records at the hospital corresponded with the accused dates and other details of birth as indicated in the passports.
Background to the Case
The case followed the death of Mr. Opiro’s older brother, Big Jackson Ocana, who was Uganda’s ambassador to a number of countries including the UK, France and DR Congo.
Mrs Luwera had four children with the late Ocana. The late Ocana did not have any more children after the four with Mrs Luwera.
Mrs Luwera moved in the UK after her relationship with the late Ocana ended.
The children said that their relatives, particularly Mr. Opiro, wanted to take over their father’s estate through claiming that two individuals who lived in Ocana’s house, who the children and their mother say are nationals of DR Congo, were Ocana’s children.
These two are the ones who came to be prosecuted, along with Mr. Opiro.
Ms ‘Atim’ was working as a house help at Ocana’s home. Mrs Luwera said that Ms ‘Atim’ was called Claudine Charla before her name changed to Claudine Atim and that the boy’s name also changed from Ben Balo to an Acholi name to suggest that he was a son of the late Ocana.
Ms Atim would accompany Ocana to India when the diplomat went to seek treatment using the illegal passport for several months.
Mrs Luwera further told the court that Mr. Opiro presented the Ugandan passports as identification documents of his co-accused in a family meeting in Gulu after Ocana’s burial.
She said that he presented the passports again on September 11, 2012 during a family meeting at the Administrator General’s office over the estate of the late Ocana.
More Accusations and charges
Ms Cbeta, Ocana’s eldest daughter, wrote in a letter to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, that she first heard Mr. Opiro refer to Ms Atim as her father’s daughter on June 17, 2012, during a Church service before her father’s burial.
“I was in total disbelief and shock”, Ms Cbeta said. “It was clear that Mr. Opiro fronted the Congolese nationals as our father’s adopted children to gain control of the estate.
That is why he was quick to take them to his house after our father’s death yet he did not care so much about our father when he was dying’’
Ms Cbeta said during the family meeting in the office of the Administrator General, Mr. Opiro pulled out two Ugandan passports as proof of identification for the Congolese nationals and he claimed that they were my father’s adopted children.
Surely someone in Mr. Opiro’s capacity should know that presenting a false document is wrong and criminal’’.
Ms Cbeta said that while her father was ill and ‘’stranded’’ in India, Mr. Opiro and others were enjoying her father’s money from his hotel in Gulu.
Ms Cbeta said she had to foot the bill for her father’s upkeep, medication and air tickets to return her father to Uganda.
Ms Cbeta’s letter, dated September 17, 2013, was in response to one Mr. Opiro had written to the Inspector General of Police Gen. Kale Kayihura, complaining about a number of officials regarding the handling of the case.
Mr. Opiro had copied the letter to many other officials, including the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education.
Mrs Luwera says that they first reported the case at the Central Police Station in Kampala but that they were advised to report it at Gulu police station “because the accused claimed to have been born there”.
The charges were originally against Ms Atim and Ben Balo, the schoolboy, but later Mr. Opiro was added to the charge sheet.
Mr. Opiro’s co-accused were each charged with possession of a Ugandan passport without lawful authority and unlawful presence in Uganda.
All three were charged with conspiracy to possess Ugandan passports without lawful authority and again with conspiracy to commit the offence of unlawful presence in Uganda.
As the case progressed in mid-2013, then Resident State Attorney (RSA) and in-charge DPP office in Gulu, reportedly assigned the case file to another prosecutor in the office, for perusal in 2013.
Shortly afterwards, Mr. Opiro “and other people” complained to the then RSA about the prosecutor who was appointed.
The complaints were that the prosecutor had been “compromised” by the “complainants”
The RSA then made the decision to remove Mr. Opira from prosecuting the case despite being convinced that he “had done no wrong and he did not even know the complainants personally at the time”.
The case was assigned to another prosecutor, Mr. Isaiah Wanamama, to continue with the prosecution.
The new prosecutor, Mr. Muwaganya, eventually decided to prosecute the case himself. Mr Muwaganya says that he continually updated the then DPP, Mr Richard Buteera, who has since been appointed Justice of the Court of Appeal.
He said that Mr Buteera backed his efforts even as complaints were also brought against him.
When Mr. Chibita took over as DPP, it would appear that he continued to support Mr. Muwaganya’s efforts to prosecute the case as he reassigned him to prosecute the case till the end.
Shortly afterwards, Mr. Opiyo Lukone visited the DPP about the case.
Mr. Opiro eventually wrote to the DPP complaining about Mr. Muwaganya.
Opiro petitions Kayihura
Earlier on, Mr. Opiro had complained to police boss Gen. Kale Kayihura, on August 12, 2013, accusing two police officers, Mrs Luwera and her partner, of orchestrating a “malicious” prosecution against him.
By way of background, Mr Opiro wrote in the complaint that the late Ocana “is survived by four biological children and two ‘adopted children”.
He added that by the time his co-accused acquired Ugandan passports in 2005, “they were still minors and therefore could not be charged in court over any offence relating to the acquisition and possession of these passports”.
Mr. Opiro, however, could not prove that the two were Ocana’s adopted children. But even if both of Mr. Opiro’s co-accused were still minors by the time they acquired the passports, the lawyer advising
Mrs Luwera and her children, argues, “They would still be liable if they, on attaining majority age, continued to pretend to be what they are not.
Whether the deceased (Ocana) assisted them in getting the passports is immaterial”.
In response to the complaint, Gen. Kayihura ordered the Professional Service Unit (PSU) of the police to investigate the allegations.
The then PSU chief, Mr Samuel Kyomukama, after a two-week investigation by a team he sent to Gulu, absolved the concerned policemen of any wrong doing.
By then however, one of the investigating officers had already been transferred to another station.
All the while, Mr. Opiro and his co-accused continued to attend what turned out to be a winding trial. The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Dr Rose Nassali, rejected calls to have Mr.
Opiro interdicted for the time he was undergoing the criminal trial, which is the normal rule in the civil service, saying it was a family matter.
Ms Cbeta says presenting a false identification is not a family matter. She said: “Being a senior government official, Mr. Opiro surely knows that presenting a document that you know to be false is not proper”.
Opiro continued to turn up in the criminal court appearances in his government official vehicle Registration No. UG 1852.
With the DPP confirming that the state had withdrawn the case, August 14 was the last day Mr. Opiro and his co-accused will probably appear in court over this case.
As to what happens next regarding the passports that the prosecution has always maintained were forged and their bearers, according to Ocana’s family lawyer, the DPP says that that is a problem for those dealing with immigration matters to handle.