Kampala — A shadowy investor from the Philippines and a South Sudanese national working with a Burundian associate duped the President and his ministers into thinking they had found a panacea for the country's problems.
Sir Marcos Al-Ameen Starimona, the man in the eye of the storm, presented himself to President Museveni as a Filipino tycoon worth $42b (about Shs150 trillion) and Mr Solo Chaplain, one of his agents introduced himself as director of academy Transportation and Freight Inc. USA/Africa.
A former MP who works at State House introduced the two men to the President. This newspaper has seen correspondences with details on how the 'investors' duped government officials, who with hindsight now call 'impostors' had agreed to invest Shs150 trillion in Uganda's economy with initial investment of Euros200 million (about Shs840b).
Before the President agreed to meet the two men, Marcos wrote to him through a State House fixer about his intended plan to invest in the country's critical areas of the economy such as infrastructure development, energy, telecommunication, irrigation, health, among others. At some point, the 'investor' who, according to sources spent two weeks in jail together with his colleague on accusations of forgery and uttering false documents, had offered to buy off Uganda's debt portfolio of about $11.6b, invest in Uganda Airlines and undisclosed humanitarian activities.
They had also offered to buy Uganda Telecom Ltd and were in the process of signing the deal yet they didn't have the money. However, before signing the deal, Privatisation and Investment minister Evelyn Anite wrote to their bankers; United Bank of Africa and Barclays Bank to confirm whether the two men had the money in the bank.
After the banks confirmed that their accounts had no money, Ms Anite immediately asked authorities at Financial Intelligence Authority to investigate the duo on accusations of forgery and uttering false documents. She also directed Interpol, working with CID to arrest the duo from Sheraton Kampala Hotel. They have since been released on police bond as investigations continue.
Speaking on behalf of Marcos, Mr Chaplain, who introduced himself as his business partner, declined to delve into the details of their dealings with government and referred this newspaper to Interpol.
"I have talked to Marcos, he has told me that you (Daily Monitor) can access all his information (sic) from the police. The whole of his file is in Interpol, so you can access Interpol. They are people who are doing due diligence on him from the economic crimes office," Mr Chaplain said.
When contacted, police spokesperson, Asan Kasingye referred this newspaper to Interpol spokesperson, Vincent Sekate, who also asked for more time to cross check the details.
In trying to sway the government on the availability of the funds for the planned projects, the 'investors' also claimed that they transferred a total of Euros200m as "initial funding for the intended activities," according to the August 1, letter written by Ms Anite.
Ms Anite, in the same letter marked 'confidential,' however, wrote to the managing director of Barclays Bank informing the authorities that "the ministry has also held discussions with the investor and have been informed about funds deposited in your bank. I would like your bank to carry out proper due diligence on the customer in accordance with your customer rule, and Anti-Money Laundering act 2013... . to establish that the funds are clean and clear."
Speaking to Daily Monitor last evening, Ms Anite confirmed having authored the letter, but added that her office has since established that the alleged investors are not genuine. She also said that she was the one who invited Interpol, CID and FIA to investigate Marcos and his friend Chaplain on accusations of duplicity.
"It is very true the police came and picked our statements to verify if we had an interface with these guys and if I had actually written a letter to these banks," said Ms Anite. "At first, we thought these people were serious investors. But we have since established that they are fake and I have asked police to arrest them over forgeries. We are also investigating the people who introduced them to government."
She added: "These guys are fraudsters and they got arrested. The police have to do their investigations, but the police are telling us that these guys are heavily guarded by the army. This investor came to State House, and met with a one Solo Chaplain. They went and had a meeting with His Excellency [President Museveni]. The President's Private Secretary, Ms Molly Kamukama, wrote to the senior minister (Matia Kasaija) to do due diligence," Ms Anite said.
Executive director of the financial Intelligence Agency, Mr Sydney Asubo, confirmed that the army has been according protection to the "investors", but added that the military guards have since been withdrawn. Asked why the army could be deployed to protect people he describes as "con men," Brig Asubo said the deployment could have been made with the knowledge that the trio were actually in possession of huge sums of money. "The only logical explanation I can think of is that they (Army) didn't know that they are conmen because for someone to have known that they were conmen, they needed to have seen the documents they were presenting to the banks. Maybe the ones who made the decision to offer them protection were not aware of the facts," said Brig Asubo.
Mr David Bahati, the State minister for Planning and Ms Anite have also recorded statements with CID. Mr Bahati and other officials in the Ministry of Finance and State House met Marcos and Chaplain and discussed the projects. Mr Bahati was not available for comment.
In the process of investigating the duo, police authorities found that after Ms Kamukama wrote to Secretary to Treasury Keith Muhakanizi, a meeting was convened at the Ministry of Finance boardroom on July 31, in which Mr Bahati, Ministry of Finance Undersecretary, Betty Kasimbazi, a special presidential assistant Florence Hashaka and unnamed adviser to Defence Minister Adolf Mwesige met with the "investors". Ms Anite did not attend this meeting. The investors had, in one of the documents suspected to be forged, alleged that the Shs840b has been channeled through an account belonging to Bank of Uganda, in names of governor Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile.
Ms Christine Alupo, the central bank's spokesperson, dismissed the claims, stating that no such money was ever received.
"I can confirm that the Bank of Uganda (BoU) has never received the alleged Euros200m from GSP Banco Fomento Mercantil of Brazil," Ms Alupo stated in an email.
In an email to this newspaper, Barclays Bank's head of marketing and corporate relations Harriette Kasirye declined to comment, citing client confidentiality.
Dfcu bank, whose Managing Director was also contacted by Ms Kasimbazi recommending Mr Marius Ntamagara, another associate to Mr Marcos to remit Euros200 million to the bank, also declined to comment, citing customer confidentiality.
Mr Muhakanizi, however, defended the Ministry of Finance officials, whom he said were not at fault to recommend an investigation into the investors by the banks.
"All they said is you people, these people have approached us, I don't have a problem with those letters. They said please investigate these people, I have no problem with that," he said in a telephone interview.