Ugandan couple assets frozen

Fidelis Munyoro Chief Court Reporter

A Ugandan couple has been given 30 days to explain the acquisition of their two houses with a combined market value of US$300 000 in Harare’s low density suburbs of Mt Pleasant and Vainona when the sole declared source of income was a Danish Red Cross worker.

Mr Robert Kwesiga and his wife, Sandie Hilda Kwesiga, are the owners of the houses under investigation.

Mr Kwesiga served with the Danish Red Cross in Zimbabwe from 2007 to 2013 and lived in the country with his wife during this period, but have since relocated to Uganda.

The Prosecutor-General, through the Asset Forfeiture Unit’s senior counsel Mr Chris Mutangadura, approached the High Court for an unexplained wealth and freezing order concerning the houses.

In a judgment delivered last week, Justice Benjamin Chikowero granted the application by the Prosecutor-General to give the Ugandan couple to explain their wealth, should they wish to do so.

In addition, the judge considered it necessary to make an interim freezing order to avoid the risk of any quick sale of the houses to ensure there would be no loss if a confiscation order, benefit order, civil forfeiture order be granted.

“In the result, the application for an unexplained wealth order accompanied by an interim freezing order be and is hereby granted,” said Justice Chikowero.

The judge also gave the couple a 30-day period to provide a satisfactory explanation of how they managed to buy the properties. Failure to do so will result in the houses being declared as tainted and subsequently confiscated by the State.

Furthermore, the couple and any representatives acting on their behalf are prohibited from disposing of the properties until the order is either altered or overturned by the court.

The Ugandan couple is expected to give explanation of their wealth in June after the expiration of the 30-day period,

Mr Mutangadura argued that there was reasonable basis to suspect the couple’s involvement in serious criminal activities since their legitimate income was insufficient to legally acquire such properties. The lack of a paper trail detailing the source and flow of the funds used to purchase the homes make the State’s suspicions stronger.

But the couple, through their legal counsel, argued that the threshold for the granting of the unexplained wealth order had not been met.

They argued that the State relied on mere suspicion and speculation and wanted the judge to throw out the application.

But in his ruling, Justice Chikowero was satisfied that the Prosecutor-General had reasonable cause to suspect that the couple was involved in criminal activities and laundered the proceeds by acquiring the two immovable properties.

“It is a reasonable basis to suspect,” said Justice Chikowero.

“It is not a proof on a balance of probabilities. It is the existence of some facts which are objectively viewed that calls upon the couple to explain how they acquired the properties.”

In a similar case before the same judge, the Prosecutor-General obtained an order for civil forfeiture to the State of US$16 386 and a white Honda Airwave Registration number AFD1898 from an illegal forex trader.

Justice Chikowero ordered the confiscation of the vehicle belonging to Ratidzai Lydia Chiodze, sister of illegal forex dealer Samuel Tererai Chiodze.

The vehicle, along with cash amounting to Z$1 435 500, equivalent to US$16 386 at the time of seizure, was impounded by law enforcement agents. The State sought the forfeiture of the money on the basis that it was proceeds of crime.

In this case, Mr Muatangadura submitted that during a search of Samuel Chiodze’s residence, no direct evidence of Exchange Control Act violations was found.

But the police seized the vehicle parked at the property. Samuel Chiodze refused to hand over the keys, prompting the police to forcibly open the vehicle, where they discovered two sacks containing Z$1 435 500, valued at US$16 386 at the time.

In his ruling Justice Chikowero agreed with Mr Mutangadura’s submissions that the money was earned through criminal activities and Samuel Chiodze who had possession of the vehicle at the material time, packed the money, stashed it in the sacks and locked the motor vehicle to secure the money.

Both Samuel and Ratidzai Chiodze denied knowledge of the existence of that money in the car.

No one explained the origin of the money and why it was stashed in a locked car at Samuel Chiodze’s parking bay at a flat in the city and Justice Chikowero noted that neither disclosed the whereabouts of the car keys.

“It will be recalled that the police had to resort to the extraordinary measure of roping in a locksmith to unlock the motor vehicle,” he said.

“No one has claimed that the money belongs to him or her. No one has opposed the application for the forfeiture of the money itself. For all these reasons, I am satisfied that the money is tainted because of it being proceeds of crime. It is forfeited to the State.”

In the end the judge came to the conclusion that the vehicle was used in the commission of a crime, precisely for storage and transporting the illicit cash, as the duo failed to give a convincing explanation for the presence of the money in the vehicle.

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