16 July 2017

Uganda: Police Use WhatsApp Video to Solve Shs4.6 Billion Equity Bank Fraud Case

Photo: The New Times
(file photo).

Kampala — There probably hasn't ever been a financial criminal case that pushed Ugandan detectives to their limit like one where $1.55m (it was Shs4.6b in 2015) went missing from Equity Bank.

Between March and April 2015, Sisco Majok Makom Majok and Mabior Acuhang Ajang Atem on different days went to Equity Bank branch in Juba, the South Sudan capital, to check their accounts.

Both found that withdrawals had been made from their accounts.

Makom's money was less by $1.3m while Acuhang's account had $250,000 deducted.

The two complained to Equity Bank Juba branch managers and demanded for their money.

Equity Bank Juba managers checked the bank transaction records and they showed that the two individuals had earlier withdrawn the money from Oasis Mall branch in Uganda, an allegation they denied.

The complaint sparked an internal forensic investigation that pointed to fraud.

The evidence implicated Oasis Mall branch operations manager David Sserwamba, cash officer Reagan Okoth, and Moses Kavuma, a teller at the same branch.

Equity Bank Uganda immediately reported the matter to Uganda Police Force's Special Investigation Division (SID) at Kireka, a Kampala suburb.

The then commandant of SID, Detective Senior Commissioner (DSC) Charles Kataratambi, ordered the arrest of the trio. But the detained trio insisted that the persons who withdrew the money were the genuine owners and they had provided their identity cards as per the bank requirements.

According to documents which Equity Bank sent to SID, on March 28, 2015, a man who identified himself as Makom went to the Equity Bank branch at Oasis Mall and withdrew $700,000 from Sisco Majok Makom Majok's account.

He went through the formal requirements where he presented his passport to the bankers.

The following day, the same man returned to the Oasis Mall branch and he withdrew another $500,000.

The Equity Bank documents indicated that on the same day, another man, who identified himself as Mabior Acuhang Ajang Atem, withdrew $250,000 from the same bank.

Detectives obtained bank CCTV footage, but they were unable to identify the two men since they were dressed in jackets and caps.

DSC Kataratambi's team reportedly found intentional negligence and connivance in the way David Sserwamba, Okoth and Kavuma handled the transaction.

A search was done in the suspects' homes where an unspecified amount of money was allegedly recovered. However the money is alleged to have disappeared in police custody.

Police analysis of passports used by the suspects to withdraw the money showed that they were forged. The bankers also didn't subject the suspects to biometric test yet the system was operating.

David Sserwamba, Okoth and Kavuma were charged with obtaining money by false pretence, which was a light offence.

When it came to the knowledge of Equity Bank top managers, they petitioned President Museveni, citing corruption to defeat justice.

President Museveni ordered the Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura, to investigate the detectives and appoint a new team to take over the case.

Police officers handling the case were arrested and later released. Their case was never taken to court.

Detective Senior Commissioner William Kototyo (rtd) was given the case file to investigate it afresh with the aim of recovering the stolen money.

As the new team pondered on how to go about the case, a video of Ugandan youth playing with dollar bills emerged on WhatsApp groups.

Workers at Equity Bank Oasis Mall branch informed the detectives that the video contained straps that were identical to those they used to wrap the stolen money.

DSC Kototyo's team identified the people in the video as Isaac Moshen and Ali Mutesasira.

They were arrested and they told police that the money belonged to Shafiq Mubarak. They said Mubarak returned home with the bag containing money.

They denied any involvement in the fraud, saying Mubarak had given them Shs5m each and told them to look for a Mercedes Benz to buy.

It wasn't long before Mubarak was arrested.

Mubarak confirmed to have captured the video and broadcasting it on WhatsApp, but denied owning or keeping the money. He said Baker Kalungi gave him the money.

He led detectives to Kalungi's home. Kalungi was arrested and his home searched revealing incriminating evidence.

"The search gave us proof linking Kalungi to the events that happened at Oasis Mall. We found documents in the names of the suspects who fraudulently withdrew the money from the bank," the officer who led the search, said.

They also found a land sale agreement dated March 31, 2015 between Abubaker and Hiram Kiwanuka Kavuma. Kalungi had bought the land at Shs100m and Shafiq was one of the witnesses.

Detectives searched Kalungi's bank account in Standard Chartered Bank where they found Shs200m that had been deposited by Shafiq.

When the detectives questioned Shafiq why he deposited such huge amount of money on Kalungi's account, he said Kalungi was too busy to do it himself.

Detectives made mobile phone printouts of the suspects.

Among the people Kalungi contacted was Joseph Mugisha. Detectives tracked and arrested him.

Mugisha told detectives that the only money he got from Kalungi was Shs15m to service a loan he had earlier given him.

"Mugisha told us that Kalungi informed him that he got money from a sugar deal with the South Sudanese. He said he told him that he used some of the money to buy land in Buziga," the detective who was involved in the case, said.

Mugisha said Kalungi left him with his Mercedes Benz, which was parked in his compound.

The police officers recovered the car and parked it at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.

The detective said Mugisha's evidence was proof that Kalungi wanted to turn illegitimately obtained money into legitimate property, which is money laundering.

The mobile phone printouts also led the detectives to Kenneth Matovu and Bernard Lubega. Both Matovu and Lubega had visited David Sserwamba while he was in custody.

When the police interrogated them, Matovu said when they visited David Sserwamba, each of them were given $100 by Mathew Keeya on the directive of David Sserwamba.

He told detectives that the money they were looking for could be in possession of Keeya since he heard him complaining that Naafi Ssenoga, whom he entrusted with a bag containing $400,000, had returned it with $110,000 less.

Detectives said Matovu told them Ssenoga disappeared thereafter and Keeya opened a case at the Central Police Station (CPS) in Kampala City.

SCP Kototyo sent a team of detectives to crosscheck at Kampala Central Police Station. The only related case they found had been reported by Augustine Tumwine on April 25, 2015.

Tumwine was contacted by detectives and he rushed to Kampala Central Police Station thinking that they had recovered the money.

"We asked him about the source of the money but he couldn't explain. He told us that the money was for Keeya. We arrested Keeya to tell us the source of the money," the detective said.

In his statement, Keeya said the money was not his, but belonged to David Sserwamba.

He said he used the money to buy David Sserwamba a Mercedes Benz ML 500 registration number UAX 536A, which he drove to Naguru for safe custody.

He led the detectives to where the vehicle was and it was recovered.

With overwhelming evidence, detectives turned to David Sserwamba to explain where he kept the money he received from Keeya.

He said he bought a piece of land at Kiteezi on Gayaza Road at Shs57m. David Sserwamba said he gave Shs100m to his girlfriend Christine Biroli and part of it was used to clear taxes for her car at the bond. The balance was used to buy 10 acres of land at Shs120m in her mother's name at Kakiri, Muguluka in Wakiso District.

To SCP Kototyo, this was evidence of money laundering.

Since David Sserwamba had channelled the money through his relatives, detectives sought a search of his father's home.

Detective Superintendent of Police Taban Kiriga recovered Shs225m in the bedroom of Isaac Sserwamba, his brother.

Isaac Sserwamba was also arrested, but he denied owning the money found in his possession, saying it belonged to his father.

After thorough investigations, police preferred three counts of embezzlement against David Sserwamba, Okoth and Kavuma.

Detectives slapped money laundering charges against Kalungi, Keeya, Isaac Sserwamba, Shafik and David Sserwamba. All the seven suspects were charged with conspiracy to commit a felony.

Prosecution

The case took two years at the Anti-Corruption Court. Justice Margaret Tibulya sentenced David Sserwamba to 10 years in jail on three counts of embezzlement, money laundering and conspiracy to commit a felony.

Court ordered David Sserwamba to refund $500,000 (about Shs1.7b) to Equity Bank. Okoth was sentenced to five years in jail for causing financial loss of $700,000 (about Shs230m) to the bank.

Kalungi was sentenced to 12 years in prison for money laundering and conspiracy to commit a felony. Kalungi was ordered to refund $500,000 (about Shs1.7b) to Equity Bank.

Shafiq was sentenced to five years in prison for money laundering. The judge said he was aided by Kalungi to commit the crime. He was ordered to refund $20,000 (about Shs70m) to the bank.

Keeya was sentenced to 10 years in jail on two counts of money laundering.

He was found to have concealed and disguised the stolen money. He was ordered to refund $250,000 (about Shs875m) to the bank.

Isaac Sserwamba was sentenced to a caution. Kavuma was acquitted.

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