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Col Kulayigye gold case: CDF changed his mind

Col Felix Kulayigye

Suspended army officer’s lawyer pleads for justice

Last month’s suspension of Col Felix Kulayigye, the UPDF chief political commissar, came after the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen Katumba Wamala, had cleared him of any service-related offence, The Observer has learnt.

Kulayigye, also an army representative in parliament, was suspended on August 23 from the office of UPDF chief political commissar following a botched gold deal that pitted him against businessman Richard Kamugisha, who accused the army officer of kidnapping his employees and ransacking his business premises at Ntinda.

But in a July 22 letter, Gen Wamala had cleared Kulayigye of any service-related offence and instead advised his accusers to seek legal redress.

“Whereas we take seriously the issues of concern that you raised regarding the subject matter, we are of the considered opinion that the complaints and counter-complaints against [Kulayigye and Lt Comrade Nuwandinda, an aide to Kulayigye], are more of legal than administrative [nature],” Wamala wrote.

A month later, Gen Wamala wrote to the two officers suspending them from their respective offices. According to his letters dated August 26 and August 27 to Kulayigye and Nuwandinda respectively, Wamala based his action on Section 69 of the UPDF Act.

While Kulayigye was only suspended from the office of chief political commissar, Nuwandinda is not allowed to take up any army job pending the findings of an inquiry into his conduct.

It’s not clear why Wamala changed his mind, but the two officers’ lawyers have protested their clients’ suspension.

“The CDF invoked his powers under the UPDF Act without listening to their side of story; the decision was high-handed, arbitrary and only calculated to meet an interest of an individual as opposed to a fair and judicious process,” Nicholas Opiyo, one of Kulayigye’s lawyers, told The Observer on September 29.

ARMY TO POLICE

Before his suspension, Nuwandinda had been tried by the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) Unit Disciplinary Committee (UDC) only for the case to be transferred to police.

According to communication from the director of counter intelligence, Lt Col Banson Monday, to Grace Akullo, the director of CIID, Nuwandinda was tried on August 24 for conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline. On the same day, the matter was transferred to police.

At the time, the UDC had failed to charge Kulayigye and in transferring the case to police, Monday asked Akullo to apprehend the army MP.

“Please note that only Lt Comrade Nuwandinda who was in our custody is the one who has been appearing in our UDC. He is hereby as well transferred to your custody, the rest are still at large,” Monday wrote.

This case, according to Opiyo, highlights a legal problem in the army’s disciplinary and judicial processes.

“The army must use this opportunity to assess its internal disciplinary and judicial process to ensure fairness because once soldiers begin feeling unfairly treated, they will get unhappy and disgruntled which can lead to something bad,” Opiyo said.

Army spokesman Lt Col Paddy Ankunda defended Gen Wamala’s decision to suspend the two officers.

“The CDF thought through his action, the grounds were very clear but since it is a subject of further investigation, I will not delve into details,” Ankunda said.

Kulayigye got involved in the gold deal after his cousin, Brenda Murungi, approached him for financial assistance to purchase the precious mineral. In total, Murungi wanted $480,000 (Shs 1.6bn) that she claims to have used to buy the gold, which she took to Kamugisha’s Matrich Holdings Ltd in Ntinda for testing.

Murungi claims to have been connected to Kamugisha’s firm by Hajji Shaban Jjagwe and Dirisa Nsimbe who later fleeced her. Kulayigye intervened, causing the arrest of Jjagwe, Nsimbe, Frank Mushaija, Arnold Lubega and Gilbert Bigirimana, all employees of Matrich Holdings Ltd.

According to a letter from Wameli & Company Advocates and Solicitors, acting on behalf of Kamugisha, to Katumba Wamala, during the arrest of his employees, 600 grams of gold worth Shs 70m and office equipment worth $20,000 (about Shs 66.8m) were lost.

“It should be noted that all this was done by [Kulayigye] personally and in the company of other armed UPDF officers who were under his command,” Kamugisha’s lawyer wrote.

But Murungi refutes this narrative, telling The Observer that her uncle, Kulayigye, came in after she contacted him for assistance in apprehending the men who had conned her.

sadabkk@observer.ug

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