Lawyers for jailed Soroti municipality MP Mike Mukula have punched more holes in the judgment of the trial Magistrate Irene Akankwasa who convicted him, dismissing as biased the rationale for his four year jail term.
Mukula, a former minister of state for Health, was on January 18, 2013 found guilty of embezzling Shs 210m from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) account. His former co-accused Health Minister Jim Muhwezi and Dr Alex Kamugisha were acquitted while Alice Kaboyo, a former State House aide was convicted on her own plea of guilt and fined Shs 20m.
While arguing the appeal on Friday, Mukula's seven lawyers led by Daudi Mpanga, told High Court Judge, David Wangutusi that the Chief Magistrate Irene Akankwasa made an error to put their client on defense without properly assessing prosecution evidence.
"From the proceedings on record, we submit that count five of the charge sheet was not only ambiguous but even prosecution diverted from this charge sheet where the appellant is alleged to have embezzled Shs 210m GAVI funds as a public employee when he was not," submitted Mpanga.
On his part Ateenyi Tibaijuka submitted that although Mukula signed three vouchers which processed Shs 263m, he did not receive the said money. He said whereas Shs 53m was given to first lady Janet Museveni for sensitization workshops, the Shs 210m was kept in the ministry of Health safe until it was returned to Bank of Uganda in three installments by the ministry staff, one Birabwa.
Tibaijuka told the fully packed court that although all prosecution witnesses, who included the Ministry's Permanent Secretary, testified that Mukula did not receive the said money, Akankwasa chose to concur with the prosecutor Sydney Asubo that the MP actually received it and thus put him on his defense erroneously.
"If the appellant had not signed the vouchers, the whole money would have been returned to the bank. But it appears the magistrate had made up her mind that is why she put the appellant on his defense ordering him to show accountability of the alleged Shs 210m, which is by law accounted for by the Accounting Officer of the ministry or the receiver," Tibaijuka said.
The lawyer added that even after Mukula had presented evidence to show that the money was returned to Bank of Uganda by ministry officials, a fact confirmed by the investigating officer, Akankwasa in her verdict only relied on the prosecution evidence.
"All in all, it was an error for the learned trial magistrate to find that the appellant had a case to answer. I accordingly pray that the applicant's appeal be allowed, his sentence quashed and be set free," Tibaijuka further submitted.
Legal team boosted
On top of Tibaijuka and Oscar Kabana who argued the case in the lower court, Mukula has added seven more lawyers to the team including Mpanga, Ernest Kalibbala, Paul Ekechu (his brother) and George Omunyokol, George Okechu and Michael Nakibinge Walugembe. The case was adjourned to today (Monday) for the Prosecution to respond.