Let’s clarify this straight away. This is not intended to be a defense in any way but a lay man’s assessment of the situation plus the issue at hand. Without prejudice to his right of innocence, Dr David Balondemu, the Kampala District Land Board [KDLB] boss, stands currently blamed of using a gold transaction to reportedly defraud a Korean investor of a total of two billion Ugandan shillings.
The prominent lawyer’s arrest was premised on a report allegedly made to the President by the supposed scammed Korean national. In which case, it’s assumed, the president is the one who directed the State House based Anti-graft Unit [SHACU] to investigate this matter.
The DPP, Jane Frances Abodo, since the president is supposedly the one pushing this case, predictably went ahead and cleared the file, giving way to Balondemu’s arraignment and looming court prosecution. Media outlets reported how the president personally spoke to the magistrate at the City Hall court and reportedly directed him not to grant bail or to delay granting that right to the applicant.
If the above-mentioned account is to be believed as the truth, Balondemu would be remanded to prison even if he had presented sureties and what was required of him ahead of being granted bail. The magistrate cited the need to assess the bail application as being the reason for the deferment of his ruling.
But the magistrate immediately drew sharp criticism from the renowned Makerere University Constitutional Law Don and expert, Dr Busingye Kabumba. Currently the head of peace and human rights center at Makerere University, Kabumba accused the judicial official of using what he called lame excuses to defer to grant or not, of a constitutional right.
He brought to the attention of the magistrate and the public, the Chief Justice’s recent directions to the judicial officers to grant bail or state the reason for not doing so, the moment it is applied for. He then argued that by refusing to grant bail or pronounce himself on why he couldn’t grant bail to the suspect, the magistrate acted in defiance of the Chief Justice’s clear directives with regard to the issue at hand.
In an editorial run by the Observer, it’s Managing Editor, Pius Katunzi wondered why the investors themselves are never brought to book for engaging in money laundering. That position, by the investors secretly bringing in money which they use to secretly engage the in illicit purchase of gold. Money laundering is the moving of supposedly ill-gotten money into an economy with the view of cleaning it and turning it into legal tender.
The practice is very common with people who do not want to pay taxes or those who want to engage in, or sponsor criminal activities to the level of terrorism and treason. Let’s go back to SHACU. Before they could even exhaustively investigate the case, true to form, SHACU resorted to their usual games of playing to the gallery.
Some of its senior staff got hold of Balondemu and dragged him before the press and video cameras, turning the lawyer into fodder for public gossip, ridicule, contempt and hatred. In doing this, SHACU sought to show and prove to the whole world how they are very serious investigators.
But contrary to the impressive record it sought to put out there to the world, truth is, majority of the cases SHACU investigates end up falling apart once subjected to the court’s sober and independent assessment, casting to light their competence issues. With that experience in mind, it won’t be wholly wrong to foresee and foretell the potential collapse of even the current case launched against Balondemu.
We say so in the hope and belief that the court is going to subject the instant case to a fair, just, judicious, sober and impartial assessment and help ultimately to expose the case for what it truly is. Failure by SHACU to do a good and thorough job can be analyzed, put into proper context, then understood and finally forgiven.
The president just handpicks majority of the staff working with and for SHACU. Little verification is done to determine the competence or lack of it, of each one of the people being randomly appointed to SHACU to work as investigators of serious crime. Consequently, and despite being a well-funded, well facilitated and therefore a seemingly elite unit, the competence of SHACU to do a good and thorough job cannot be wholly guaranteed, neither can it be wholly trusted.
This view, when judged against the competence of each one of the other investigation bureaus of the State around that are well established and, which, if left alone and when well facilitated, can do a much better and impartial job than SHACU. For the reason that the staff at SHACU receives orders from the President, they cannot be wholly trusted therefore, to act independently of the president’s point of view in the course of investigations carried out at their own boss’ behest.
This is made worse by the fact that the head of SHACU is a soldier, exposing his conflicted position and lack of independence of mind since he is obligated and expected to take and follow orders from the Commander-in-Chief, who is incidentally not only the president but also his or her appointing authority.
All those aside, the DPP will find it tougher and harder to draw the line between David Balondemu the lawyer, and David Balondemu the so-called fake gold dealer. That is not albeit to suggest in any way that Balondemu is guilty as charged since he is still presumed innocent until after the DPP proves to the contrary. Let’s agree for the time being that Balondemu actually got involved in this whole gold transaction as charged.
Even then, the DPP will have to show and prove to the satisfaction of court his role was that of an accomplice to the commission of the crime. As opposed to his role being that of an innocent person acting on behalf of third parties on account of his job as a lawfully and legally practicing lawyer.
To this end, the DPP will have to demonstrate and further prove Balondemu was vested with advance knowledge as in regards to the criminal intentions of the people who allegedly conned the Korean. Furthermore, the DPP will have to demonstrate and prove how well aware of their criminal intentions, Balondemu himself willfully joined in and even helped those people to further their criminal dealings to the detriment of the Korean.
Even if Balondemu himself signed the agreements of purchase and sale, he will be able to convince court that he did so in the honest belief that the transaction was valid and thus free from suspicion. In any case, the sellers and the buyer themselves had earlier on before going to Balondemu, negotiated and agreed between themselves to the validity of the transaction.
Following that, the buyer and the sellers then moved to Balondemu to seek for his legal services. Balondemu will expectedly assert his simple task was merely to reduce the sellers’ and buyer’s verbal instructions into a formal and viable legal document. After all, as a lawyer, how was Balondemu expected to test for, let alone determine the purity or lack of it, of what was allegedly being sold and what was ultimately bought as gold?
Considering that what was sold and bought had been tested and found to be pure gold. Right. How was he, a person not specialized in matters to do with purity of gold or otherwise, expected to do more apart from drawing a purchase and sale agreement indicating what was sold, bought and for how much? A case can be made about how Balondemu wrote down into the purchase and sale agreement conditions to be followed once the deal turned out invalid. That can be true.
But Balondemu will respond by pointing out those who were supposed to be liable for that. Those will surely be those who sold the impugned gold not him who acted as a lawyer. Let’s agree for the sake of it that Balondemu himself was contracted by the sellers of the impugned gold to look for the buyers. Even then, one would again ask how he was supposed to know what was up for sale was fake? Moreover, what was bought was tested prior to being sold and bought. The same turned out to be pure gold.
Consequently, the Korean having satisfied himself it was pure gold, went ahead and actually bought it as is. In the final analysis, labeling Balondemu a scammer is a very easy thing for the government to do and yet a very difficult label to prove in court. Above all, the label can prove costly since it comes with high damages payable by the innocent tax payers at the end of the day should the person labelled so choose to sue.
In conclusion, the case surrounding Dr. Balondemu remains contentious, surrounded by questions about the thoroughness of investigations, the independence of involved parties, and the complexities of proving alleged fraudulent activities. As the legal proceedings continue, the true nature of the accusations and the integrity of the case are yet to be fully revealed.
Disclaimer: The aforementioned report provides an overview and analysis of the ongoing legal case involving Dr. David Balondemu. It does not intend to pass judgment but rather aims to present various perspectives and issues surrounding the matter
- Mr. Stephen Kasozi Muwambi is a seasoned crime investigative writer, majoring in judicial-based stories. His two decades’ experience as a senior investigative journalist has made him one of the best to reckon on in Uganda. He can also be reached via [email protected]
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