Uganda: Fresh Details Emerge On BoU Currency Saga

Three days before security agents raided the Central Bank, Lt Col Edith Nakalema, the head of State House's Anti-Corruption Unit, met the President and discussed a confidential letter [dated May 2) from the Bank of Uganda Governor Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile calling for investigations into illicit dealings.

After receiving intelligence information that a team of BoU officials who were sent to London to inspect money printing could have sneaked in extra cash and went ahead to ferry unauthorised cargo on a chartered plane, the governor wrote to Lt Col Nakalema on May 3 and demanded a full investigation into the matter.

Lt Col Nakalema thought it pertinent to first brief the President because of the sensitivity of BoU, sources say.

After getting full information about what sources called "suspected illegal dealings", Mr Museveni ordered security agencies to go full throttle to apprehend the suspects and establish whether the printed money was not stolen and question the owners of extra consignment on BoU chartered plane.

In the meeting with the President, sources say, it was also agreed that Internal Security Organisation (ISO) and Criminal Intelligence Department of the Police be brought on board to expedite investigations.

Mr Mutebile was also briefed before security agents raided the Bank on Wednesday.

The security team arrested at least eight officials on Wednesday in connection with the currency cargo saga, including the director of currency Centre, director of security and director procurement.

The head of BoU Currency Centre in Kabale and Mbale were also been questioned for failure to detect the extra consignment on a chartered plane with sensitive government cargo.

Others who have been interrogated in the BoU saga include the officer-in-charge of customs at Entebbe International Airport, aviation security team and airport police authorities. Some officers have since been released on police bond while others remain in custody as investigations continue.

Although the unspecified amount of printed cash was supposed to be transported to Uganda in 30 pallets, Sunday Monitor has learnt that the BoU charted plane had extra five pallets belonging to at least 13 individuals and international organisations.

Some of the 13 persons of interest to investigations including businessmen Charles Mbire and Omar Mandela, and the American aid agency USAID.

The United Nations mission in Uganda was also among the parties that Mr Ofwono Opondo, the executive director of Uganda Media Centre, named on Friday as having had cargo on the plane.

"It's extremely embracing, this investigation is an eye opener and must go full throttle backwards to find out how far back this illicit practice has been going on, who has been covering up, may be its not only BoU. There are other agencies that have classified procurement and transportation," Mr Opondo said.

Mbire speaks out

Mr Mbire, one of the individuals who had cargo on the place, yesterday distanced himself from the controversy surrounding the BoU chartered Cargo Plane, saying that it was not his business how his cargo got on the flight.

He said after buying 20 litres of adhesive glue in London, he contracted Allied Cargo Express, a London-based shipping agency, to deliver it to Entebbe International Airport.

Mr Mbire said he only went to the airport to receive the glue meant for his boat.

"I had no direct business to do with the people of the cargo plane because after buying 20 litres of adhesive glue in London, I contracted Allied Cargo Express, who are also in London, to ship it for me. I am not part of choosing how the glue came here but I went to pick it at the airport," Mr Mbire said.

The businessman said he was not sure whether there was connivance between Allied Cargo Express and the company running the Cargo plane to airlift their client's cargo on a chartered aircraft.

"This is like DHL because when you ship, you wait to receive and the shipper handles the logistics," he explained. Sunday Monitor tried to speak to the contact Mr Mbire provided as belonging to the London-based Allied Cargo Express to explain how the company managed to get the disputed goods to a chartered plane but our repeated calls went unanswered.

Mr Omar Mandela, another businessman named as having had cargo on the plane, neither confirmed nor denied when contacted yesterday.

He promised to call back after "finishing a meeting" but we had not managed to speak to him again by press time.

What happened

In April, BoU officials sent a team to London to collect printed cash and immediately notified Uganda Revenue Authority of an impending import of currency and requested them to facilitate quick clearance.

A private chartered plane arrived on April 27, and as normal practice for sensitive cargo, Customs officials facilitated clearance of the currency at the tarmac in presence of BoU officials, BoU security, aviation security, police and other security agencies.

The consignment was offloaded from the chartered plane, inspected and loaded on BoU vehicles and taken to Kampala under heavy security escort. However, the same plane contained other cargo which belonged to various individuals, companies, ministries and international organisations.

As per normal customs clearance procedure, this cargo was offloaded into the licensed bonds at the airport and subsequently the owners made customs declarations, paid applicable taxes and Customs physically verified each consignment to ascertain accuracy and consistency with the declaration and released the goods to the owners.

Contrary to earlier reports of missing documents, Sunday Monitor has since learnt from URA staff at Entebbe that each consignment had its individual airway bill. But Customs have told the security team investigating the saga that they were not party to the airline charter arrangements between BoU, the airline and the other owners of the goods.

URA explains role

Uganda Revenue Authority's Jamil Senyonjo, the acting assistant commissioner of public and corporate affairs, distanced the tax body from any responsibility and insisted that they cleared the suspected goods because "it is not the responsibility of Customs to concern itself in logistical arrangements of importers or exporters."

"URA should not be dragged into logistical contractual failures or mistakes of BoU and their service provider... Our duty is to ensure that imported cargo through the airport is received and tallied with the cargo manifest, verified and is cleared in line with the Customs Laws as established under the East African Customs Management Act (EACCMA)," a statement from URA reads.

In this particular consignment, like all others, the URA statement adds: "Our Customs staff followed the procedures to the dot and we can account for the cargo cleared fully. URA has provided the details of the information required by the investigators and we are available to offer any clarification if required."

The Executive Director of Commercial Banks Supervision at BoU, Dr Tumubweine Twinemanzi, told Sunday Monitor that during a press conference on monetary policy that they will address on Tuesday, BoU officials will give details on why they printed money.

CAA POSITION

Mr Vianney Luggya, the spokesperson of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), said the agency did not have a direct role in the handling of the chartered plane.

He, however, declined to give details of what role the aviation regulator played.

"There is no direct role at all but since the matter is under investigation, it is prudent not to speak about it. Let us wait for the conclusion of investigations."

Who had what on plane

Bank of Uganda. Currency.

Omar Mandela. Machinery

USAID. Entomology supply. Jamani Investments. Security ex-ray machine.

Charles Mbire.Unbranded Adhesive.

UN High Commission.Acid batteries.

CET Industries. Field Care (DVD) and others.

SEMLIKI Diary. Tripower, fuses & Switches.

UN Mission. Human blood apparatus.

United Nations. Aircraft parts.

United Nations. Transmission apparatus United Nations. Lab reagents.

APTECH. Pumps/ accessories.

Ministry of Heath. Medical Equipment.

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