About two weeks ago, the Anti-Corruption Court witnessed a convict ask to return money he admitted to take and not accounted for.
When asked whether he had embezzled $102,108 (about Shs357m), David Japins Oloka, a former senior accounts assistant at the ministry of Public Service, replied: “I did. I took the money.” The court then asked him to refund every penny as well as pay a fine of $8,000 (about Shs28m). He was also fined Shs4.8m or spend one year in prison.
Oloka has returned the full amount. In fact, he did so before the Anti-Corruption Court sat.
After he accepted liability for stealing pension money meant for foreign pensioners, Oloka, in February, decided to approach the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) on how he could return the money he had stolen.
Terms and conditions
The DPP welcomed Oloka’s idea and part of the terms of the plea-bargain agreement was for him to return all the money he stole plus pay an additional $8,000 in exchange for his freedom.
When the court sat on October 26, the prosecution alleged that Oloka, 62, on or around January 27, 2009, went to Cairo Bank International along Kampala Road with a written letter, authored by then principal accountant in the pensions department Christopher Obey to release $87,434 (about Shs305m) meant for payment of foreign pensioners for which he signed.
The prosecution, led by senior state attorney Barbra Kawuma, further alleged that Oloka, again, on May 27, 2009, went to Cairo Bank with another letter authored by Mr Obey and requested for $14,674 (about Shs51m) meant for foreign pensioners.
Kawuma told court presided over by Grade One Magistrate Susanne Okeny that the money totaling to $102,108 has never been accounted for by Oloka, a move she said made him come to his senses to own it up.
She went ahead to present to court a copy of the payment slip as proof that Oloka had indeed paid back the stolen money in Bank of Uganda on account number 003300148000037, which account number she said was given to the DPP by the accountant general.
She added that besides refunding all the money stolen, moreover at a higher exchange rate than in 2009 when he stole the said money, Oloka had made an additional payment of $8,000 (about Shs28m) as a fine for his corrupt acts.
This newspaper understands that Oloka returned the money to Bank of Uganda on September 16.
He also paid the Shs4.8m fine that the court imposed on him on Monday (two weeks ago) and regained his freedom that same day.
While accepting the plea-bargain agreement between the DPP and Oloka, the presiding magistrate held that the criminal justice system encourages plea bargain due to its advantages, including the fact that it is a faster way of disposing of cases, reduces congestion in the prison and encourages reconciliation among the parties.
The magistrate also observed that the convict did not waste court’s time of going through a full trial and that he was remorseful.
Does this mean David Japins Oloka is completely cleared of all cases? Not yet.
Jane Kajuga, the DPP spokesperson explained to this newspaper that the refund of the stolen money only exonerates him on this case of “foreign pensioners” but not other pension-related cases that are yet to be brought before court.
So, what next for Oloka? He is a free man, for now, but according to sources at the directorate, he is expected to be arraigned before the Kololo-based anti-graft court, among the suspects in the main pension case.
It is not yet known when the case will be brought before court, but Kajuga says the investigations are in advanced stages.
This process involved several people and negotiations before it materialised in September, Jane Okuo Kajuga, the spokesperson for the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP), says. The plea-bargain programme, is a new justice system that disposes of cases faster and also makes the offender get a lesser sentence for having accepted committing the crime and not wasting court’s time by going through a full trial.
How plea bargain system works
Andrew Khaukha, the national coordinator of the Plea Bargaining project (pictured), explained what happens before a plea bargain is reached, during a validation exercise for procedural laws recently.
What it is all about
A Plea Bargain is a process between an accused person and the prosecution, in which the accused person agrees to plead guilty in exchange for an agreement by the prosecutor to drop one or more charges, reduce a charge to a less serious offence, or recommends a particular sentence subject to approval by court.
How does plea bargain work?
•There has to be a willing party
•The willing party has to initiate the negotiations
•An offer for plea bargain may be initiated orally or in writing by the DPP or his or her authorised officer, the IGG or his or her authorised officer, any other person or authority authorised to conduct prosecutions or an accused person or his or her representative.
At what stage can this be done?
•Plea bargain may be initiated at any stage of the proceedings before the sentence is pronounced.
•This may be done orally or in writing by a person who intends to negotiate a plea by notifying the opposite party. The opposite party on receipt of this notification may proceed with the plea bargain, but it is important that the parties in writing notify court within seven days on the progress of the plea bargain.
Grounds for plea bargaining
This bargain may be in respect of a plea of guilty to a minor and cognate offence, a lesser offence. In cases of multiple charges, a plea of guilty to some charges in exchange to a withdrawal of some charges, a promise to plead guilty to a charge in exchange for a recommendation for a lesser sentence; or a promise to cooperate as a witness for the prosecution in exchange for reduced charges or a reduced sentence.
Disclosure is key in this process. Therefore the parties have to disclose to each other as far as is prudent all relevant information, documents or other matters to enable the parties make an informed decision with regard to plea bargain.
The role of court
The court may not participate in the bargain though the parties are supposed to inform court of the ongoing plea bargain and consult on the recommendations with regard to possible sentence before the agreement is brought to court for recording and possible approval.
When the parties are in agreement
In case the parties have agreed, a plea agreement is executed and filed on the court record.
However, before the agreement is signed by the accused, the agreement should be explained to the accused person by his or her advocate or a justice of the peace in a language that the accused understands. If the accused person has bargained with the prosecution through an interpreter, the interpreter shall certify to the effect that the interpretation was accurately done during the bargain in respect of the contents of the agreement.
Procedure in court
The court shall inform the accused person of his or her rights; and should be satisfied that the accused person understands the implications of the right not to plead guilty and if the accused is pleading guilty, the effect of that plea.
Court can reject agreement
The court may reject a plea agreement where it is satisfied that this may occasion miscarriage of justice and the reasons for the rejection will be recorded and the parties notified.
b)The effect of this is that the agreement shall become void and as such inadmissible in subsequent trial proceedings or any trial relating to the same facts.
c) If court does this, a plea of not guilty shall be entered and the prosecution may, proceed to present its case to the court.
An accused person can withdraw from a plea agreement prior to acceptance of the plea by the courts and/or after the court accepts and convicts on the plea but before sentence is passed. This may be done orally or in writing stating the reasons for withdrawing from a plea agreement.
The real deal
Jane Okuo Kajuga, the spokesperson for the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP), explained to this newspaper that when the court dismissed the main Shs165b pension case for lack of prosecution in April, the DPP split the suit into four smaller charges. The smaller charges include; payment to foreign pensioners in which David Japins Oloka pleaded guilty on October 26; irregular payments to NSSF whose trial is ongoing against three former top officials of ministry of Public Service officials, including Jimmy Lwamafa (former permanent secretary), Obey and Stephen Kunsa Kiwanuka (former Director for Research and Development).
The other two cases include money dubiously paid to a law firm of Bob Kasango, and the original pension suit.