Lawyers representing Kampala businessman Dodoviko Mwanje who is accused of illegally demolishing St Peter’s Ndeeba Church and stealing property worth 850 million shillings have protested the delayed trial at the anti-corruption court.
Mwanje and 19 others including five senior police officers, a Gombolola Internal Security Officer, and bailiffs were arrested in August, 2020 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.
Mwanje is accused of the theft of assorted Church properties valued at 850 million Shillings, 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 misdemeanour, 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.
The accused on Friday morning appeared before the anti-corruption court in Kololo together with their lawyers where the trial was expected to kick off. However, the trial magistrate Joan Aciro was away, reportedly attending a workshop.
Speaking to Uganda Radio Network, lawyer Ambrose Tebyasa, said that since his clients were taken to court in 2020, hearing of the case has failed to take off. Tebyasa noted that in early days the state attorney kept playing ping pong by seeking adjournments.
Tebyasa added that for some time the case was further delayed when the state deliberately failed to disclose the evidence they have on file to the accused persons.
The lawyer further noted that the delayed trial is an infringement on his clients’ fundamental right to a fair and speedy trial and also causing more pain to accused who are who have been on interdiction and therefore not earning income to sustain their families.
Their claims hold some ground given the fact that in August last the trial magistrate was bound to dismiss all criminal charges filed against Dodoviko for want of prosecution. The defense lawyers’ concern put aside, the hearing of the case was most likely not kicked off today given the fact several of the accused were not present in court as required.
Moments before the court clerk communicated that the magistrate was not around, the defence lawyers were making endless calls to trace one of the accused whom they learnt that he was in Iganga.
“Oh, thank lord!” one of the defence lawyers happily noted after learning that the trial judge was not available. In absence of the magistrate, prosecution and defense lawyers had to sign a consent to adjourn the matter to April 27 this year.
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