3 January 2013

Uganda: Prosecutor Orders Probe Into Missing Court Exhibits

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Richard Butera, has ordered an investigation into the disappearance of highly lucrative wildlife scales from court custody, where they were kept as exhibits.

The disappearance of the sh300m worth of pangolin scales was discovered towards Christmas, when officials at the Makindye Magistrate's Court attempted to make an official of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) sign as having received them.

The official refused to sign for the scales before seeing them. The court officials then allegedly insisted that the official should just sign because they had no time, but he stuck to his guns.

When they finally checked the exhibits, all the six sacks contained rubbish instead of pangolin scales.

Prior to that, UWA had written twice to the court, requesting for the exhibits without a response, UWA spokesperson Lillian Nsubuga said on Wednesday.

Butera said yesterday that he has asked the Police to investigate and "establish how the scales disappeared and whoever is responsible be treated as an offender because this is criminal".

The scales, which weighed 115kg, were seized in July from a businessman identified as James Busanani in Kampala.

Busanani confessed that he had been exporting the scales to China. On the international market, pangolin scales go for $1,000 per kilogramme (about sh2.6m).

UWA says the case was disposed of in their absence. They say they only learnt later that Busanani had pleaded guilty, promptly paid a fine of sh200,000 and was set free.

UWA petitioned the DPP over the light punishment Busanani received.

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