U.K. Report Alleges: Uganda's Attorney General Involved With U.K. Laywers In Siphoning Taxpayers' Millions In Fraudulent Museveni Legal "Defense" Fees

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Uganda's attorney general, Nyombi, named in alleged taxpayers' money-siphoning scheme

[Global: Africa]

A U.K.- Highly Confidential whistleblower report reviewed by Uganda's Parliament and also submitted to British law enforcement agencies calls for criminal prosecution of Uganda's attorney general and lawyers allegedly involved in defrauding millions of dollars in taxpayers' money in a scheme connected to a lawsuit against President Yoweri Museveni.

The report, dated September 24, doesn't indicate whether Gen. Museveni himself was involved in or knew of the reported scheme -- the report says it amounted to fraud, bribery and money laundering.

Any legitimate defense of the original lawsuit itself shouldn't have cost more than $160,000 over a five-year period but U.K. lawyers and Ugandan lawyers have billed more than $30 million disguised as legal fees, under the alleged elaborate criminal scheme, says the report.

The suit against Gen. Museveni was filed in 2006 in London.

The report states that the bilking of Ugandan taxpayers contravened anti-money laundering and anti-bribery laws. The report says Uganda's attorney general "duped" the country's Parliament into releasing the funds.

In Britain the report has been referred to several agencies, including the Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA); the Serious Fraud Office; and, the National Crime Agency. The report was also sent to U.K. judicial oversight organizations that monitor lawyers' ethical conduct.

The Black Star News was unable to obtain comment today from the U.K. law enforcement agencies.

The report now seems to overshadow the original lawsuit itself, filed in 2006 by a British national of Ugandan origin, Jesse Mashate, against Gen. Museveni. He alleged Gen. Museveni seized his Ugandan newspaper, The Weekend Digest, in 1986 after he came to power following a five year guerrilla war against the government of Milton Obote.

Newspaper's normally tell the story, but in this case, The Weekend Digest, and Mashate's lawsuit, have become the story. There've been dramatic twists and turns, spawning headlines, with allegations of use of forged documents by Gen. Museveni's defense team to reverse a multi-million dollar default judgment in favor of Mashate in 2007. Now an explosive report emerges containing allegations of massive fraud in the numerous lawyers' billings.

In essence the report says lawyers turned the Jesse Mashate vs. Yoweri Museveni Kaguta case, as the caption reads, into an ATM machine.

The lead law firm that represented Gen. Museveni is London based- Edwin Coe, LLP. The Senior Partner involved in coordinating defense of the lawsuit against Gen. Museveni is David Michael Greene, according to the report and media accounts.

Edwin Coe, according to documents from a Uganda Parliamentary review, sought nearly $29 million in fees. It's unclear how much has actually been paid to Greene or Edwin Coe or to the other attorneys involved in the case.

The report says Greene shouldn't have even represented Gen. Museveni, since U.K. law requires pre-approval from the Treasury before lawyers can accept clients that are referred to as "Highly Exposed Persons" (HEP), such as heads of State. The law is intended to ensure that the source of HEP's funding is above board.

As a prominent U.K. lawyer, Greene is aware of the laws, says the report.

Greene is President of the London Solicitors Litigation Association and a member of the Executive Committee of the London Branch of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, according to Edwin Coe's website. He is a Council member of the Law Society.

Greene didn't respond to an e-mail message with questions sent by The Black Star News today.

The September 24 report also says Greene in August 2007 publicized false statements about the case to Ugandan media, including The Daily Monitor which published his statement on August 9 of that year. In the press statement Greene said "the allegations of forged documents" being used on behalf of Gen. Museveni's defense was "dismissed by the court" and that the case itself was  "at an end.."

The report says the statements are false. The statement was reportedly meant to dupe the public into believing the case had been resolved.

(In a story by Norman Miwambo, The Black Star News in 2007 was the first publication to report on the allegations of a forged document being submitted in the case to set aside the default judgment in favor of Mashate. It originated from Uganda's then High Commissioner to the U.K. Joan Rwabyomere, who changed the date of when diplomats accepted service on Gen. Museveni in the case, it was alleged.)

Separately, the report says since Gen. Museveni was sued in 2006 in his personal capacity, he therefore should not have been entitled to Ugandan taxpayers' money for meeting his legal costs. Indeed, documents connected with the investigation point out that a former Ugandan attorney general, Kiddu Makubuya, in the past had warned against paying for Museveni's defense with Ugandan taxpayers' money.

The report notes that the U.K. finances up to 50% of Uganda's budget and that therefore British taxpayers' money may also have been diverted in the scheme.Current Uganda attorney General Peter Nyombi allegedly "duped" Uganda's Parliament into letting the payments, allegedly amounting in the millions, to go through.

(Separately, in August, 2013, Nyombi was suspended from membership in the Uganda Law Society for "incompetence" not specifically in connection with the Mashate lawsuit against Gen. Museveni but for "controversial legal opinions" to Gen. Museveni, including one resulting in the president re-appointing a Chief Justice of his preference, Benjamin Odoki, who had reached the constitutionally-barred retirement age.)

Nyombi didn't respond to an e-mail message sent by The Black Star News late today.

The Mashate case has dragged on for seven years now, with both sides, at various stages of the proceedings, claiming to have scored some advantages. In fact, the longer the lawsuit dragged out, the more lucrative it became for the parties representing, or claiming to represent Museveni, if the allegations in the report bear out. Given the huge sums allegedly paid out in legal fees, the beneficiaries, it would appear, have no incentive to resolve the matter.

An international lawyer who is not involved in the case but has reviewed the matter says since Gen. Museveni had been sued in his personal capacity, the U.K. courts should "nullify and void" all decision made until the proper defendant shows up.  "The defendant, the Museveni who was sued in his personal capacity, never showed up in court," says the lawyer.In addition to Nyombi and Greene, also named in the report as alleged beneficiaries of the payments are the U.K.-based individuals:  Lawrence Katz,  Partner at CKFT Solicitors, a London-based law firm; Patrick Asiimwe, a UK lawyer who is also Vice-Chairperson of the UK chapter, of Uganda’s ruling party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM); Peter Mashate Magomu, a UK lawyer and legal advisor, of the NRM's UK Chapter; Ms. Franca Okonji,  Principal, Forest Solicitors, a London-based law firm; and, Ishwar Ramdath, Principal, Pillai, Jones, & Co Solicitors,  a London-based firm.The Black Star News could not immediately reach these individuals for comment today.

U.K. lawyer Greene of Edwin Coe also made a false statement when he informed Ugandan media, including The Daily Monitor, that Messrs Assimwe and Peter Mashate Magomu, were not involved in Museveni's defense, states the report.

Also identified as an "out of jurisdiction" party is Joseph Matsiko, Partner, Kampala Associated Advocates (KAA), a Kampala, Uganda-based law firm. KAA sought to be paid $1.8 million, according to documents from a Ugandan Parliamentary review, which doesn't state the total paid to the firm so far.

Matsiko didn't respond to an e-mail message with questions sent by The Black Star News today.Uganda Members of Parliament in the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee had raised questions about KAA's fees, prompting a separate investigation.

Matsiko is even accused of having not performed any legal work on behalf of Gen. Museveni's defense and that his inclusion was simply to deceive Uganda's Parliament to release funds.

Separately, Wadri Kassiano Ezati, chair of Uganda's Parliamentary Account Committee, didn't respond to an e-mail message seeking comment.

The report claims Greene, the U.K lawyer, arranged for Matsiko and other KAA lawyers to sit officially "in the High Court on seats reserved for court law officers such as accredited UK solicitors and barristers" for some of the hearings, when in fact they were not qualified before the court and that it "was intended to create a false impression" that Matsiko and others "had amongst others, the  required accreditation to practice law in the UK and indeed that they duly represented the Defendant in the court proceedings..."

"Such false impression was, amongst others also intended to dupe the Parliament of Uganda into releasing public funds to the said Joseph Matsiko and others of the KAA on grounds of the purported lawful duty of representing the Defendant in the UK courts, while fully aware that this was untrue," states the report.

"By the above conduct, David Greene of Edwin Coe LLP, was at various stages supported by Uganda’s Attorney General Peter Nyombi who duped the Uganda Parliament into releasing funds running into millions of UK pound sterling when available evidence on court records shows that the total costs of the Defendant’s case does not go beyond UK £100,000 for the five years duration," states the report. "Why has the Defendant and in particular his solicitors not disclosed the moneys paid for his defense?"

When contacted by The Black Star News, Mashate, who resides in London, declined to discuss the case.

"I only learnt of this document from my sources in Uganda," he said. "I am neither shocked nor surprised by it. As a party to ongoing court case, I cannot comment on it. As a law abiding citizen, I support the rule of law and submit to the jurisdiction of Her Majesty's sovereign authority, including the punishment of offenders."

Sources close to Mashate who are familiar with the matter say the November 2006 default judgment of £18.6 million ($30 million) in his favor has now ballooned.

By May 2010 the figure, taking into account interest, was £51.5 million ($83 million) and as of October 2013, £69.6 million ($112 million). Costs could exceed £13 million ($21 million), in addition to "exemplary and special" damages of anywhere up to £35 million ($56.3 million).

Proof of criminal wrongs could result in further damages.

The report is entitled "MONEY-LAUNDERING, FRAUD, BRIBERY ETC, RELATING TO HIGH COURT CASE NO. HQ07X01288 (COURT OF APPEAL CASE NO. A2/2013/1546)"

 

The Mashate Case's Long History:

The case was initiated on his behalf by Mashate's attorneys at Forest Solicitors in November 2006 in the High Court, in London, against Museveni, while visiting London. Museveni was served through Uganda's High Commission, which is the equivalent of an embassy. Mashate won a default judgment in December, 2006.

In April 2007 the Ugandan government, on behalf of Museveni, then instructed the law firm  Edwin Coe LLP to challenge the default judgment, even though he had been sued in his private capacity.

In May 2007 Museveni wrote to Uganda's Attorney General and Minister of Justice Minister and tells him he may work with Patrick Asiimwe and Peter Magomu, according to the chronology in the report.

In June 2007, Forest Solicitors, which had previously been representing Mashate switches sides and starts representing Museveni. In the same month the default judgment is set aside.

In July Mashate files an appeal, stating that the "Republic of Uganda had no legal standing" (locus-standi) since Museveni had been sued in his private capacity and that he had "multiple representations."

In August 2007 Edwin Coe LLP's David Greene published a press release in Uganda's media stating "there were no further court proceedings against defendant, aware it was untrue" says the report being reviewed by Uganda's Parliament and the U.K. serious crimes investigation agencies.

According to the report, Museveni's lawyers then obtained first interim ex-parte order in October 2007 striking off Mashate's claim, then, in February 2008, a final strike off order. Mashate himself wasn't provided with the dismissal paperwork.

According to the report's summary of the case Museveni then disregarded appeal proceedings in October 2007 saying they were only interested in an order for Mashate to pay Museveni's £6,500 (about $10,000).

Between October 2008 and September 2013, the report states, despite "numerous requests, complaints, etc, Claimant was denied copies of Defendant’s ex-parte applications for Master Eyre Orders once aware of the existence of these Orders."

In July 2008, at a time when both Edwin Coe LLP and Forest Solicitors were concurrently on record as Museveni's lawyers, Judge Blair, at the  Queen’s Bench Division (QBD) rejected Mashate's claim that "the Republic of Uganda had no locus standi."

In July 2009 the Court of Appeal upholds Judge Blair's ruling but then directs Mashate to amend his claim and serve Museveni in Uganda. At this time, even though no "Change of Solicitors’ N434 forms" were filed or served, Pillai & Jones Solicitors joins Museveni's legal team.

In October 2009 the Court orders service to Museveni by Foreign Service under the State Immunity Act 1978; under the amended claim Mashate is again awarded default judgment in May 2010.

Museveni then, in August 2010, describes the U.K. courts as "those colonial courts" with "colonial judges" and "with colonial hangover….”.

Pillai & Jones Solicitors said it planned to appeal the judgment.

In December 2010, since Museveni had insisted on being defended as head of state, Mashate was granted an "interim" order allowing him to seek a lien against Uganda's UK based commercial assets.

In May 2011, again without filing or serving the required "Change of Solicitors" N434 forms Edwin Coe LLP re-appeared as lawyers representing Uganda to challenge Mashate's default judgment.

Uganda property Holdings Ltd (UPHL), a state-owned company, also hired a London-based law firm called CKFT Solicitors, and the company"as part of the state" also sought to assert state immunity.

In October 2011, Judge Seymour "without hearing any application" or "applications" set aside the default judgment and imposed a restraining order against Mashate.

The next year, in May 2012, Mashate was allowed by the Court of appeal to appeal the restraining order.

In August 2012, Museveni, or Uganda, consented to the quashing of the restraining order.  "Costs against the Defendant reserved until determination" of Museveni's state immunity issue.

Nine months later, in May 2013, Justice Yelton "unilaterally imposes Order that Claimant pays all outstanding costs to Defendant as condition of continuing in the proceedings," states the report.

But in July 2013, the Court of appeal granted Mashate permission to appeal Justice Yelton's order imposing the costs conditions.

Finally, in August 2013, the Court of appeal granted permission for oral hearing this month, October, on the permission to appeal against the cost conditions imposed in October, 2011.

This is where matters currently stand.

 

 

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