Justine Bagyenda, the former Executive Director in Charge of Commercial Bank Supervision at Bank of Uganda has been given up to 10.30am on Thursday to appear before Parliament or she faces arrest.
Bagyenda is a principal witness in the ongoing probe into the closure and sale of seven commercial banks by Parliament’s Committee on Commissions Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase).
She is also separately facing several probes including the Inspector General of Government’s Office for illicit enrichment and Financial Intelligence Authority over possible money laundering.
The Cosase probe follows the Auditor General’s report that pointed at collusion and corruption between BoU officials and beneficiaries during the closure and takeover of the said banks, the most recent being DFCU’s take-over of Crane Bank.
“A warrant of arrest will automatically be issued if Bagyenda doesn’t appear before this committee by 10.30am Thursday,” Cosase Chairman Abdu Katuntu ruled during a committee session this morning, where Bagyenda was represented by her lawyer Robert Kirunda of Kirunda and Wasige Advocates.
Katuntu also said it is rumoured that Bagyenda is in Nairobi though records at the airport say she was headed for Amsterdam Netherlands.
He instructed Police to ascertain her whereabouts. She is also said to be in the US. “Whether she is Rwanda, Nairobi, Amsterdam, or the US, I would like police to furnish us with a report on her whereabouts by close of the day,” Katuntu ruled.
Lawyer thrown out, accused of conflict of interest
The MPs also threw Bagyenda’s lawyer Kirunda out of the hearings because they reasoned he could not answer Bagyenda’s queries and his role only stopped at delivering Bagyenda’s regrets for her absence in the hearing which he had done.
MPs including Elijah Okupa and Francis Mwijukye also pointed out conflict of interest in the matter of Kirunda representing Bagyenda.
It is said that from November 2005 to November 2011 Kirunda was a Senior Legal Associate at JN Kirkland & Associates a firm that was hired by BoU to advise on the exit strategy of one of the banks in question.
Kirkland recommended and or identified Octavian Advisors that eventually incorporated Nile River Acquisition Company, to whom BoU sold bad assets at incredible discounts.
Nile River Acquisition then appointed Sil Investments as an agent to recover the bad loans. Sil Investments was incorporated in Uganda just a month before Nile River Acquisition bought the loans from BoU and JN Kirkland also represented Sil Investments.
“The issue of being conflicted is a matter of law. I will rule on that,” Katuntu told the MPs who thought Kirunda should be a potential witness. According to Katuntu, Kirunda’s appearance at that point was construed as a messenger of Bagyenda and there needed not be a ruling on whether he is conflicted at that point and he was thrown out of the hearing and wasn’t allowed to respond to queries directed at Bagyenda.
MPs dismayed by Bagyenda’s conduct
Several MPs on the committee summed up Bagyenda’s absence as contempt. “Bagyenda was here the day before she travelled and she was instructed to appear the next day. She did not mention anything about travelling to the committee and only wrote on her way to the airport. That is contempt of parliament, Bunyole West County MP James Waluswaka said.
“You (to the Cosase Chair) made a ruling that all people appear until end. Bagyenda claiming that she was not aware to appear is misrepresentation by the lawyer. Proceedings of parliament take precedence on anything, unless there is a criminal case. It is contempt of Parliament,” Bukedea Woman MP Anita Among said.
“She took this committee for a ride. We would want summons. This is the time to involve Interpol,” Kitgum Municipality MP Beatrice Anywar said.
“Chairman use your authority that witnesses are banned from travelling unless with permission. Maybe passports be deposited,” she added.
“Since these people might run, maybe the committee should even provide them accommodation until the probe is done,” Mwijukye added.
Katuntu ruled that since the other BoU officials have been respectful to the committee, their passports need not be confiscated but he advised that Bagyenda’s passport is either deposited at BoU or Parliament.