KAMPALA-UGANDA/NEWSDAY: The Anti-Corruption court in Kampala is bound to dismiss all criminal charges filed against city businessman Dodoviko Mwanje and 19 others for the demolition of St Peters Church of Uganda, Ndeeba for want of prosecution.
One year since the trial started, the case is yet to be heard due to the prosecution’s delay to disclose the evidence they have on file against the accused persons. On Monday, the prosecution sought another adjournment when the matter came up for mention before Chief Magistrate Joan Aciro.
Dodovico and several others including five senior police officers, a Gombolola Internal Security officer, and bailiffs were arrested in August last year following the demolition of the church at the height of a land wrangle involving the businessman, members of the Buganda Kingdom Royal family, and church leaders.
Dodovico is accused of the stealing assorted church properties valued at Shs. 850m while the bailiffs and people who were hired to demolish the church structure are accused of breaching COVID-19 guidelines by operating during curfew time, while the six police officers and the GISO are accused of abuse office, corruption, conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor, and disobeying lawful orders.
Also on the same charge sheet are employees of Kampala Capital City Authority, Ivan Katongole and Richard Naika, the KCCA physical planner and manager of physical planning and building respectively who are accused of abuse of office.
However, the accused persons through their lawyers led by Max Mutabingwa told the court that the delay of the trial is not only an infringement on their fundamental right to a fair and speedy trial but also causing more pain as many have been on interdiction and therefore not earning income to sustain their families.
“Our clients have been turned into tourists to this court. The case has dragged on for a year now… and we are still on the same footing asking the state for disclosure. Every time we appear they tell the court that they are ready to disclose but nothing is done,” Mutabingwa told the court. But State Attorney Innocent Aleto noted that the prosecution had been incapacitated by the COVID-19 induced lockdown and restrictions making it impossible to deliver the available evidence to the accused.
However, the statement was challenged by defense lawyers who argued that the last adjournment was made on May 5, 2021, a month before the president initiated a lockdown on June 18, adding that COVID-19 was now being used as an excuse to abuse court processes. Mutabingwa also asked the court to dismiss the matter.
The magistrate agreed with the defense lawyers and gave the prosecution a period of three weeks to make the disclosures so that the hearing can begin or else the charges be dismissed. The matter returns to court on October 5.
Besides these criminal charges, Dodovico is currently battling other civil matters over the ownership of the land that hosts the Church. The government had put aside 3.8 billion Shillings to acquire the piece of land in question from him but this arrangement was recently halted by the court.
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