Uganda Aide: 12 Years For U.K. Drug Smuggling
Authorities say sniffer dogs detected the cocaine in Birungiâ€™s luggage at Heathrow Airport. Earlier, authorities say the nearly 20 pounds of drugs was estimated at about $260,000 before upgrading the estimate to about $800,000.
An aide to the brother of Uganda’s president broke down in tears when a U.K. court convicted on her on drug smugglings charges and sentenced her to 12 years behind bars, yesterday.
Rose Rosalind Birungi, 49, aide to General Salim Saleh, brother of President Yoweri Museveni and minister of micro-financing allegedly smuggled cocaine worth nearly $1 million to the U.K. in her luggage while traveling on a diplomatic passport. She was arrested on May 20, 2007 at Heathrow airport.
The trial at the Kingston-Upon Thames Crown Court lasted nine days. A Jury of seven men and five women took two days to return with a verdict.
Birungi is to be deported to Uganda after she serves her sentence and will be banned from U.K. travel.
U.K. Crown Prosecution Services led by Rosemary Burns paraded the evidence in court before the twelve Jurors. Ironically, Birungi’s husband Shama Rhajiv also faces a U.S. jail term on drug charges.
In addition to serving as a top aide to general Saleh, she also doubles as minister of information in the traditional Uganda kingdom of Toro.
Since a UK immigration officer Jane Robertson arrested her on May 20, 2007 at London Heathrow Terminal 4, Ms. Birungi has since remained in a solitary cell at HRP Bronze field Ashford. If permission of appeal is not granted she will serve more 8 years, since she had already served one physical year that counts to two years equivalent period.
Authorities say sniffer dogs detected the cocaine in Birungi’s luggage at Heathrow Airport. Earlier, authorities say the nearly 20 pounds of drugs was estimated at about $260,000 before upgrading the estimate to about $800,000.
Birungi’s defense team comprised of; barrister Raana Mukesha, Patrick Assimwe, Peter Mashate Magomu. The team will appeal the conviction. Asiimwe said his team did not “get co-operation from her employers” referring to the Uganda government.
"Understandably most people feared to be associated with drugs but somehow Police helped us and the Inspector General of Police, major general Kale Kayihura personally helped a lot," Assimwe, added, referring to Uganda’s police chief. "He helped to track down some people who set-up this lady."
According to Assimwe, Birungi was set-up because, "She was among the people on a hit-list because she has been fighting terrorist groups linked to People's Redemption Army."
The Uganda government alleges the PRA is a rebel army fighting to unseat the government; critics contend the PRA is a phantom concoction of the government used to justify crackdown on political opponents. Assimwe wouldn’t name the people who “set up” Birungi. “I can't mention them now, they can run away, but they are within and out-side the country. The IGP has already instructed and they will be apprehended when they go back home," he said, referring to the Inspector General of Police.
A top official at Uganda High Commission to the United Kingdom was quick to distance the government from Birungi. "Let her face the charges, not to implicate others, she did it in her individual capacity," said the official who asked not to be named since this officer was not authorized to speak by the High Commissioner.
"I went to see her in prison, but her story doesn’t add-up. She tells this and that--But when I asked, she then denied," added this official, who also denied that Birungi was a Ugandan security agent or an aide to general Saleh.
Birungi had traveled from Kampala to Nairobi, Kenya., to Lagos, Nigeria, and to Banjul, the Gambia; from the Gambia she traveled to London with two bags, prosecutors alleged. It remains unclear who the intended recipients of the cocaine were.
Investigative news reporter Miwambo writes for The Black Star from Europe. He can be reached with news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org
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