KAMPALA, Uganda: Much as it can be a blessing most times, the black gold (read oil) is associated with curse. Tycoon Patrick Bitature of the Simba Telecom fame is fast waking up to this rather rude fact, The Investigator can authoritatively and exclusively report.
We have been made to understand that in pursuit of the big cash in the bourgeoning oil and gas business, Bitature walked to his friend Sudhir Ruparelia to seek for billions in loans. He was seeking to construct a plant in Hoima to engage in the treatment, handling, storage, transportation and disposal of oil and gas. This was in June 2016.
Talks between the two parties ensued. They ended with Crane bank agreeing to give Bitature and his business associates something like Ushs150Bn to pursue their oil and gas dreams. They spoke to Sudhir under a firm whose particulars we have since discovered. It is called White Nile Consults Limited.
But as a condition to access the loan, Bitature and his friends pledged a number of prime properties in town. Nor did they spare land on which stands their oil plant located in Hohwa in the oil-rich Hoima region.
The Investigator is now privy to the properties which Bitature and his friends pledged to Crane bank as one of the conditions for the loan to be granted. The securities are eight in total. They include Plot No.3317, Kyaddondo on Block 244 Land at Kisugu, Plot No 3318, Kyaddondo Block 244 at Kisugu, Plot No.32, Hill Lane, Kampala (FRV 1330, Folio 21.
Others are Plot 17, Kyaddondo Road, Kampala (FRV 1330, Folio 18, Plot 1 A, Bill Road, Kyaddondo County, Mengo district (FRV420, Folio 6, Plot 92, Lake Drive Luzira, Kampala (LRV 2768, Folio 25, Plot 90, Lake Drive Luzira, Kampala (LRV 2769, Folio 1 as well as Plot 134, Buhaguzi, Block 2 at Kaseeta, Hoima (FRV 647, Folio 25).
Apart from the securities mentioned above, Bitature who seems to have wanted the financing badly at this point in time, even went out of his way and offered himself and members of his family as guarantors for the huge sums of money. In so doing they were undertaking to personally clear the loans in case the firm failed to return the same to Crane bank.
The family members who stood as guarantors for Bitature with Crane bank, so to speak, include Carol Bitature and Natalie Patricia Bitature. As if that was not enough, Bitature also pledged his signature firm Simba Telecom Limited with Crane bank and he did the same with Luzira Marina Limited and Chapter Eleven Limited. Both parties signed the attendant agreement on June 14, 2016. The interest on the Uganda shilling loan (Ushs12Bn) was agreed at 12% while that on the US dollars loan (3.6m) was agreed at 10%.
All had gone well until August 12 last year when Crane bank started sending out demand letters to the borrowers asking them to return the money advanced. Other demand letters would arrive on the borrowers’ desk again- on September 10th and October 4th last year. As the borrowers were still trying to come to terms with the three previous demand letters, the bank lawyers sent yet two more letters on January 5th this year. These ones were really stern. They were demanding for the immediate payment of a total of Ushs13, 258,520,549.
The lawyers were also asking the borrowers to pay up another USD3, 805,742.47. They warned that the securities pledged to obtaining the loan would be put up for auction by January 16 this year if the borrowers failed to pay up the whole sums with interest and penalties by that date.
Bitature and his friends went begging their friend Sudhir to prevail over Crane bank to give them more time to pay up. Sudhir listened. But trouble came when Bank of Uganda took over management of Crane bank and started to squeeze all loan defaulters to pay up. Seeing that Bank of Uganda was hell bent on recovering the billions from them, the Bitatures have since dashed to court to thwart moves to return the funds.
We know that the Bitatures filed the lawsuit at the commercial section of the high court early this year. They retained Muwema and company advocates to represent them in the legal showdown where they cite Crane bank as the defendant.
The borrowers, among others, claim that much as Crane Bank undertook to advance the funds, the financial institution never advanced all the funds. The borrowers argue that non-remittance of the loans sums renders the agreement between them and the bank null and void and there unenforceable.
“Despite the offer and acceptance of the said credit facility, the defendant did not disburse the monies stated to be loaned to the plaintiff but merely made a book entry of the loans on the plaintiffs’ account NO 10020130230000071 and 10020230300000092 respectively,” the borrowers’ state in plaint lodged at the commercial court.
The Bitatures undertake to table bank statements regarding the said loans to prove to court that Crane Bank did ‘not actually disburse’ the funds they undertook to disburse. Without prejudice to the above line of defense, the borrowers claim further how Crane bank is making premature demands for the return of the money allegedly advanced.
According to them, they are supposed to start repaying the money by September 30 this year. Moreover, they are claiming that the demand letters are illegal and unenforceable. “They are issued contrary to the Mortgage Act 2009 and the Regulations thereunder and the penal interest of 36% demanded is extortionate, unconscionable and illegal,” the lawyers argue on behalf of the borrowers.
They accordingly demand for an account reconciliation of their accounts in order to ‘determine’ the correct loan amounts due, if any, as it is apparent that the defendant is acting upon fictitious or unexplained amounts.” Crane bank had not responded to the charges by end of business last week. Watch this space…