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INVESTIGATION: How cleaners and tea girls were used to steal billions of cash from BoU’s tightly guarded strong rooms

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Bank of Uganda has been hit by scandal after scandal

Currency management in every central bank is one of the most protected functions, for obvious reasons- it is the Holy Grail.

It is for this reason that Bank of Uganda has in place what is supposed to be a watertight process complete with human and machine security that ensures the introduction of new notes and the removal of old and defaced notes is tightly managed to ensure there are no leakages.

Any leakages are not only theft of government property but would greatly weaken the central bank’s inflationary control mandate through the management of money supply.

A 2-week-long investigation by this website has however revealed how crafty BoU officials took advantage of a lax supervisory regime to steal off, for themselves and possibly for their bosses too, large sums of money- that until today BoU is so tight-lipped about.

Mafia-like operation

Under normal circumstances, used currency notes that re-enter a currency centre are first reprocessed in tightly managed counting/machine rooms by note examiners who then sort it into good and bad money. Good money is strapped and labelled and put back into the system, while old and defaced notes are counted, recorded and holes punched into the notes and put aside for destruction. A similar amount equivalent to the destroyed notes is then supposed to be reintroduced into circulation.

Every note examiner is assigned a specific amount of money and specific counting room and all operations are closely watched on CCTV that is supposed to run 24/7 and is supposed to be reviewed daily by a supervisor and reports made. During the money counting process, no any other person, unless with authorization, is supposed to access the counting rooms, except the note examiner.

But it appears, BoU of Uganda staff have in collusion with their bosses at the currency centres and at headquarters, with impunity frequently violated the written down protocol, for purposes of helping themselves to billions of cash.  

In the deliberately crafted scheme, during cash counting hours, note examiners would contrary to written protocol let in the rooms, cleaners and office messengers seemingly to either clean the rooms, bring in tea or water or run some errands for the note examiners. This cover would then facilitate the introduction into the counting room of containers such as waste baskets, polythene bags and tea flasks. Polythene bags that on entry contained snacks such as chapatis and samosa, would upon exit, be stuffed with money- that is not necessarily old, and is still reusable. This money would then be recorded as defaced, and sent for destruction.

Out of the counting rooms, in a choreographed scam, the security teams manning the CCTV cameras, would either look away as this all happened, or for some reason not be in the monitoring room for a few minutes, so as to facilitate the delicate operation. Once the money was safely out of the counting rooms, it would then make it to garbage bags that at the end of the days is taken out of the banking premises.

This process also involved the security supervisors who were expected to review the CCTV footage at the end of the day as well as the team in charge of old currency destruction whose role was to falsify the records on how much old currency has been set aside and eventually destroyed.

In some cases, note examiners from other currency centres/branches would be allowed into counting/machine rooms and used to siphon-off money in their bags and clothes. This would often be with the collaboration/collusion of security teams at the exit.

In summary, it would take almost the entire currency centre to carry out this sophisticated operation and this is probably the reason why Bank of Uganda reportedly suspended all staff of Mbale currency Centre over the theft.

According to ChimpReports, an online news website with close connections to Bank of Uganda, the arrest was a result of an investigation after an official at the branch was caught red handed on a security video camera stealing money.

“All staff, from the sweeper to the branch manager have been shown the exit,” reported Chimpreports, quoting an unnamed source at the bank.  

“BOU conducted a long and in-depth probe into the theft after being alerted by internal security and has now decided to act,” the online news site is further quoted, adding that “large sums of money which were worn out and supposed to be punched were instead stolen from the strong room.”

The arrested officials have neither appeared anywhere in court or their names made public.

BoU issues fresh guidelines on currency management

In light of the fresh scandal, Bank of Uganda has now issued fresh guideline on currency management and access to counting/machine rooms at the currency branches.

In a September 02, 2019 memo to all currency centres, Dr. Bazinzi Natamba the Ag. Currency Director said that in “order to mitigate risks and strengthen internal controls” in currency operations, No Note Examiners from another currency branch should access a counting/machine room of another currency branch without the required authorization.

Dr. Bazinzi also ordered that “no staff other than Note Examiners should participate in the Counting/ Machine Room activities such as sorting, punching and strapping of stocks.” He also ordered that daily CCTV footage at every currency centre must be reviewed. 

“Immediately stop staff from carrying into the counting rooms any items such as tea, water, eats, juices, among others, for personal use. Urgently remove waste baskets/ boxes in the counting rooms,” Dr. Bazinzi directed. 

Is Mutebile beginning to strike at the Mafias?

These fresh guidelines as well as the investigation and subsequent arrests of old currency thieves’ coincides with the appointment of Dr. Bazinzi to the post of Ag. Currency Director, following the suspension of Charles Malinga Akol, the director of currency at Bank of Uganda and that of Francis Kakeeto, the assistant currency director Bank of Uganda (BoU), ironically at the Mbale branch.

Malinga is accused of failing to supervise the consignment of new currency from France and instead delegated his juniors. Serious security breaches were later discovered on the currency plane- 5 extra crates of unauthorised cargo was transported on the plane. Initial leaks suggested there was an extra UGX90 billion of unauthorised new notes, but several and conflicting explanations by various government agencies of what the cargo was has have since been offered, but up to today, there is still a cloud of ambiguity on what exactly was on that cargo plane.

Even Bank of Uganda, preferred to safely call it “an anomaly in the inventory of the expected consignment.” Admitting to an outright theft would cause serious reputation issues within the global financial partners of the central bank.

Dr Bazinzi, is one of 5 high ranking Bank of Uganda staff, headhunted and hired by the BoU Governor, Professor Tumusiime Mutebile in February 2018 as a way to “improve efficiency and enhance internal controls in the Bank.” The immediate arrest of the thieving BoU staff and the issuance of fresh guidelines after the former currency boss and his juniors were arrested and suspended, raises fresh questions as to whether the suspended currency director was part of the theft ring or if staff simply took advantage of his absence.  

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I will pursue Bank of Uganda to the end; if I die, my son will take over- Dr. Sudhir vows

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Dr Sudhir Ruparelia addresses a media conference soon after Commercial Court dismissed the BoU case. He said everyone who participated in the illegal closure, takeover and sale of Crane Bank would be made to pay
Ruparelia Group founder and Chairman Dr. Sudhir Ruparelia has said he is ready to legally pursue Bank of Uganda and make them pay for illegally taking over his bank, till the very end. This is the first time Dr Ruparelia is publicly commenting about Bank of Uganda’s planned appeal, following the dismissal of the central bank’s UGX397 billion case against the businessman over “being incompetently in court.” Commercial Court’s Hon Mr. Justice David K. Wangutusi, on Monday August 26th dismissed HCCS 493 of 2017, saying BoU “did not have jurisdiction to file HCCS No. 493 of 2017” and that the orders sought against Meera are “barred in law, rendering” BoU with no “cause of Action” against Meera. BoU in an August 27th statement by the Director of Communciations, Charity Mugumywa, said BoU would appeal “as per Notice of Appeal Application 320 of 2019 filed in the High Court today.” “Me I am ready, today, tomorrow or even when I am dead my son will take over,” said Sudhir in a media interview today, during the official opening of Electrical Plaza, his latest $10 million commercial building in downtown Kampala. “Let me tell you, the law is the law, nobody can reinvent law. You see they (BoU) created this law (FIA 2004) to protect themselves. They are saying no body can sue them. So we used the same law to defeat them,” he said adding: “They have taken seven banks and nobody could do anything to them because they had the law to protect them. So we used the same law they used to protect them to defeat them.” In a veiled comment about the appeal he said that: “If anybody has senses in bank of Uganda, they have such dumb lawyers there. If the lawyers knew the law they are supposed to enforce, this could have not happened. So I think it’s good for us that there are dumb lawyers in Bank of Uganda legal department.” He also alluded to the fact that the lawyers could be playing so as to continue profiting from legal fees as the appeal drugs on, finally costing the tax payers when the case is lost. Analysts have said BoU’s appeal is equivalent to “throwing good money after bad money” because Justice Wangutusi’s ruling was based on a plain and clear interpretation of the Financial Institutions Act. Giving his reasons on why he thought BoU did not have a locus standi, Wangutusi, based his ruling on The Financial Institutions Act which clearly lays out the role of a receiver. “In my view if it (FIA 2004) had wanted the Receiver who had only 12 months on stage to sue, it would have expressly provided for it. “The end result is that once Crane Bank was put under Statutory Management, its Board of Directors was suspended. If there was to be any suit, it would be brought by the Central Bank as the Statutory manager under section 89(2)(e) or by the Liquidator with approval of the Central Bank under section 100(1)(a) of the Financial Institutions Act. These two were empowered to initiate and defend court action by the Financial Institution Act which interestingly left out the Receiver. The Legislature did not want any court action against the Receiver…… It follows that the Respondent under Receivership lacked locus standi. Without locus standi its attempt at filing a suit was null ab initio (to be treated as invalid from the outset).”    “Everyone who stole my bank, is going to pay,” Sudhir vows Sudhir has previously said that everyone who participated in illegally taking over Crane Bank, would have to pay. “Everyone who has played a part in the fraudulent activities is going to pay for it – we are not going easy.  That includes dfcu that is fraudulently occupying Meera Properties; they are the biggest fraudsters in this country. They need to understand that they are illegally occupying our branches and they fraudulently transferred them into their names without the consent of Meera Investments” he told media soon after the ruling. Addressing a media conference outside the Commercial Court, a tough-talking Sudhir said:  “Everyone is going to pay a price for this,” he said, adding: “We are now going to put up a counter claim. You know COSASE found out a lot of things of what these people did. With guidance from my lawyers, we will put a counter claim. They did not value our assets, they did not account for the cash in the bank; all the money was just stolen. This is terrible,” Sudhir said. “This is a big win over the mafias and the whole conspiracy that’s been holding the country at ransom in the central bank. I think this is going to be a lesson to them. They have taken over 7 banks and they cannot account for any of them. How do you fail to account to someone? I am a shareholder, I lost a lot of money; I put 25 years of my time and you steal my bank? –you steal all my assets, all my paid-up capital, and all my assets just stolen. And you claim that you put this money in Crane Bank and you can’t even account for it, you can’t even account for Shs290 Billion – where is it all gone?” quizzed Sudhir. Sudhir also said this was a “tremendous achievement” and “historical.

“Nobody has been in the past been able to win Central Bank – they have stolen 7 different banks and not accounted to any shareholder and this is the unfortunate part of the whole scenario. You take somebody’s assets, you steal it, you profit from it and you don’t account for it; this is so ridiculous!  Then, they sued for $100 Million; the money they stole, they are suing me for it. How?” he wondered.                

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Pictorial: How Meera Investments is changing Kampala’s skyline

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Today, Meera Investments, the property development arm of the Ruparelia Group officially inaugurates their Electrical Plaza, the latest addition to their mixed use building portfolio in the city centre.  

Kampala Boulevard is a mixed use building on Kampala Road with shops and fully furnished suites- the Kampala Boulevard Suites. The suites offer accommodation with seating area. The air-conditioned units have a fully equipped kitchenette with dining area and an oven and a fitness centre.

Since 1994, Meera has been part of a number of innovative property solutions in mainly, the commercial and residential space and today owns sectors and to date owns over 300 properties in Kampala and other major towns like Mukono, Jinja, Mbale and Mbarara.    

With 287 shops, 66 fully furnished apartments, Hardware City building is strategically located in the central business district. With access to three main roads and parking for up to 150 cars, it is one of the best arcades in town.

The company, according to its Chairman and founder, Dr. Sudhir Ruparelia, is the largest developer of commercial and residential properties and also owns the largest number of ongoing real estate projects. It is also the largest private owner of commercial land in Kampala.

Bukoto Heights consists of 97 tastefully furnished modern apartments, premium designed to offer guests a mix of modern contemporary surroundings and a relaxing, laid back environment. Built in the northern suburb of Bukoto the facility offers both short stay and long-term guests all the comfort and amenities of a full service hotel. The range of accommodation facilities suits all guests, whether business traveller that require a standard apartment, leisure travellers or guests that require a luxuriously spacious apartment or have even taken the kids along for the ride and require family accommodation.  

Meera Investments Limited was in 2017/18 rated as a top rental income taxpayer by Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) while Dr. Sudhir Ruparelia, the Chairman/Managing Director of Meera Investments, was rated the second biggest individual rental income taxpayer.

Kingdom Kampala Mall, consists of 22,000m2 of Grade A retail and office space. Built to international standards. Out of the 40,000m2 built up area, 22,000m2 is lettable, consisting of 18,000m2 of office space (10 floors), 4,000m2 of retail as well as parking for up to 450 cars. The building has been fitted with a modern sprinkler fire suppression system consisting of a 200,000 litre water tank and 2 fire pumps with a back-up generator.  There is a separate holding water tank with a capacity of 150,000 litres.
The building is also equipped with 6 lifts- four with a capacity of 13 passengers and two with a capacity of 20 passengers. It also has three 500kva backup generators with a 15,000 diesel tank and has been fitted with 400 CCTVs for security. The building can run for 4-5 days off-grid.

Over the last 3-4 years, the company has been on a construction spree, raising several properties across Kampala, which have both redefined city architecture and changed both Kampala’s skyline, as well as the look and feel of the Kampala City.  

The Cube is a well- planned shopping arcade with five levels of shops, offices & restaurant space and apartments. Located at the busy Kisementi are in lower Kololo, it’s ideal for small and big brands that want to grow their dream business much faster in an ideal setting. 

Today, we revisit and review some of those projects, especially those developed over the last 3-4 years

Featuring one, two and three bedroom apartments, as well as penthouse suites. All apartments have access to complimentary WiFi, ample parking slots within the premises for residents and their guests. Guests at Speke Apartments – Kitante have complimentary access to use the swimming pool and gym at Speke Apartments – Wampewo and Kabira Country Club both of which are within driving distance.
Located on Plot 11 Market Street at the confluence of Market Street and Kiyembe Lane, the $10 million Electrical Plaza is made up of 220 shops, 56 apartments and 2 floors of parking.

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“The development of SGR isn’t behind schedule at all as far as harmonization agreement is concerned,” Says Coordinator

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” The Standard Gauge Railway was adopted in 2014, by the East Africa Presidents who launched the multitrillion project meant to modernise the traditional railway transport system geared towards boosting economic growth by facilitating a faster movement of goods across borders. “

The SGR Coordinator, Canon Perez Wamburu while appearing before the Public Accounts Committee yesterday to respond to audit queries raised in the 2017/2018 audit report that raised concerns over the delays in implementation of the perceived regional railway, he affirmed that Uganda is on schedule for the construction despite compensating only 11% compensation of the project affected persons within three years.

Officials from Ministry of Works and Transport while appearing before the Public Accounts Committee

His remarks were in response to a call by some MPs like Theodore Ssekikuubo (Lwemiyaga County) who questioned why taxpayers have to continue funding the team in charge of SGR yet no single kilometer of the railway has been constructed, five years from the time it was launched in 2014.

Ssekikuubo said, “We are incurring nugatory expenditure on this white elephant. Is it about time we launched the standard gauge railway. After a decade of the launch, not even one kilometer has been put on ground. Kenya has already started on its side, ours was launched at a hotel in Munyonyo, it has remained there, dead and buried there unless the contrary is proved, are we as a country right to continue appropriating money to a non-starting project.”

In response, Wamburu said, “We agreed that Kenya and Uganda arrive at Malaba at the same time. The development of SGR isn’t behind schedule at all as far as harmonization agreement is concerned. Uganda SGR isn’t late at all.”

The Standard Gauge Railway was adopted in 2014, by the East Africa Presidents who launched the multitrillion project meant to modernise the traditional railway transport system geared towards boosting economic growth by facilitating a faster movement of goods across borders.

President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya flagged off the maiden passenger train on the newly completed Mombasa-Nairobi SGR in March 2017 and although Uganda had promised to start construction in June 2015, but three years down the road, Government is yet to complete funding negotiations with Exim Bank China.

On Uganda’s side, project is to cost USD2.8Bn approximately, of this, Exim Bank will bring on board USD2.3Bn which represents 85%, while the remaining 15% will be footed by Ugandan tax payers.

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