25 May 2007

Uganda: Mike Mukula, Kamugisha Released on Bail

Kampala — FORMER health ministers Mike Mukula and Dr. Alex Kamugisha were granted bail by the High Court on Friday afternoon.

Both have been charged with abuse of office and embezzlement relating to funds from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI).

Ululations resounded through the packed court room when the judge, Moses Mukiibi, declared Mukula free on bail at around 4:30pm.

His wife, Gladys, astonished the audience by rushing over to him and kissing him passionately on the lips.

His supporters then carried him shoulder-high to the office of the registrar, where he signed a bond of sh10m not cash. He was also required to deposit his passport and is to report to court twice a month.

His sureties, minister of state for disaster preparedness Musa Ecweru, MP Felix Okot Ogong and former MP Elly Karuhanga, were required to pay sh5m each.

During an impromptu press conference outside the court, Mukula thanked the people who stood by him, particularly the Teso Parliamentary Group, prominent Teso people like bishops and elders, as well as Movement cadres for their "firm and solid support".

He said he was still a Movement supporter. He also stressed that he wanted to see fairness in the management of the case. "The future of this country lies in fighting corruption. I take zero tolerance to corruption," he declared.

Ecweru condemned the manner in which Mukula was arrested. "I love the war against corruption. But Mike is a senior and respected Ugandan who should not have been arrested the way he was," he told the press.

Okot Ogong said he supported the war against corruption but it should not be done selectively. "It should apply to everybody. There are many reports on corruption but the culprits are free."

In court, Mukula's lawyer, Fred Muwema, had pleaded that his client was of advanced age (Mukula is 53) and a law-abiding citizen who had never been charged with any criminal offence.

He also argued that Mukula had not tried to avoid justice, even after the IGG report came out implicating him, and that he was eager to clear his name.

The representative of the IGG, Lillian Mwandha, had opposed their release, arguing that it would interfere with the investigations. She also questioned the argument on age, saying that Mukula looked much younger.

Earlier in the afternoon, his co-accused Dr. Alex Kamugisha, was also released on bail on similar conditions. He was asked to deposit his passport with the High Court registrar and to report to court twice a month. Kamugisha was required to pay sh3m, not cash.

His sureties, former minister Peter Kasenene, Kinkizi-East MP Chris Baryomunsi and Mbarara Municipality MP John Arimpa Kigyagi, were asked to pay sh5m each, not cash.

Kamugisha's lawyer, Anaclet Turyakira, had pleaded that his client was suffering from hypertension, which required close attention from his doctors. The lawyer presented medical reports from Nairobi and Mulago hospitals to prove his case.

He also argued that Kamugisha, 58, was of advanced age and therefore eligible for bail. He further said his client was a man of substance who would not go into hiding when released on bail.

There was applause when the judge granted Kamugisha bail at around 2:00pm. After signing the bond papers, Kamugisha returned to the court room to hear the application of his colleague.

The third suspect, former State House official Alice Kaboyo, turned herself in on Wednesday and was charged with abuse of office, theft, forgery and uttering false documents. Her bail application will be heard on Tuesday.

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