Uganda: Lawyer Nicholas Opiyo Remanded Over Shs 1.2bn Cash Deposit

24 December 2020

Human rights lawyer, Nicholas Opiyo will spend his Christmas in Kitalya prison where he has been remanded on money laundering charges. He appeared this morning before the Nakawa chief magistrate Dr. Douglas Singiza who read for him the charges of money laundering.

The magistrate didn't allow Opiyo to plead to the charges, saying his court lacks jurisdiction over the matter. He, therefore, remanded Opiyo to Kitalya prison until December 28, 2020. Judiciary spokesperson, Solomon Muyita, says Opiyo's file has been forwarded to the registrar for onward transmission to the Anti-Corruption court which has jurisdiction over the matter.

Prosecution alleges that on October 8, 2020, at Absa bank Garden City branch in Kampala district, Opiyo's organization Chapter Four Uganda where he is the executive director received $340,000 (over Shs 1.2 billion) through account number 6004078045 well knowing that the money in question was proceeds of crime.

Opiyo, who is a renowned critic of government over human rights violations, was picked up by plain-clothed operatives on Tuesday from Lamaro restaurant in Kamokya, a Kampala suburb where he was having lunch with his colleagues. He was taken to the Police Special Investigations Department headquarters in Kireka together with four other lawyers/human rights defenders.

They include Simon Peter Esomu, Anthony Odur, Herbert Dakasi and Hamidu Tenywa who have since been released without any charges being preferred against them. Several national and international organizations including the Uganda Law Society have condemned Opiyo's arrest and subsequent detention beyond the mandatory 48 hours without appearing in court.

It is also alleged at the time their arrest Opiyo and his colleagues were strategizing to investigate the circumstances under, which more than 54 people lost their lives during the November protests triggered by the arrest of the National Unity Platform presidential candidate, Robert Kyagulanyi.

"We find it deeply troubling that Nicholas is being charged with offences under the Anti-Money Laundering Act because of his work as the executive director of Chapter Four. The bank account listed in the charge sheet is the organizational bank account belonging to Chapter Four Uganda, and not to Nicholas Opiyo. The funds mentioned in the charge sheet is a grant from one of Chapter Four's reputable recurring and long-standing donor who legally support Chapter Four's work of promoting and protecting human rights" says a statement from Chapter Four.

"Chapter Four is a human rights organization, duly registered as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with the NGO Bureau and as a company limited by guarantee with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB). Further still, Chapter Four Uganda fully complies with its legal obligations under all the relevant laws, including Anti-Money Laundering Act. It files annual returns to the relevant statutory bodies, revealing its source of funds and activities."

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