The Anti-Corruption High Court Judge Lawrence Gidudu has given the Directorate of Public Prosecutions seven days to have committed Chapter Four Director, Nicholas Opiyo to face trial on charges of money laundering.
Gidudu said he will dismiss the charges against Opiyo if he is not produced within the seven days.
According to the judge, Opiyo was violently arrested in December 2020, three months after he had allegedly received 340,000 USD on the account of his closed NGO, funds suspected to be proceeds of crime, but after charging him, the prosecution has on six occasions informed court that investigations are incomplete or are still ongoing.
“This song of investigations are incomplete is not itself sufficient cause to warrant an adjournment. The prosecution is obligated to inform court of vital steps taken to complete investigations before the court can decide if an adjournment is merited or not,” said Gidudu.
According to the judge, had it not been because of the national lockdown imposed due to COVID-19 in July coupled with the testing positive of some DPP staff, he would have been; “inclined to find that between December 2020 and September 2021 is inordinate delay to put the applicant to trial for offenses committed on digital platforms and not in the bush where it may be difficult to reconstruct the scene.”
As such, he has given the office of the DPP to commit Opiyo for trial before the High Court and disclose it’s case to him before closure of business on September 15th 2021.
“If after September 15th, 2021 the applicant has not been committed for trial to the High Court, then the prosecution of the applicant in criminal case 106 of 2020 shall stand terminated….. to prevent abuse of the process of the court by curtailing delays in prosecuting the applicant,” ordered Gidudu.
The decision by Gidudu arises from an application filed by Opiyo through his lawyers led by David Mpanga.
Opiyo filed this application six months after being arraigned before the Anti-Corruption Court on charges of money laundering.
The prosecution accused him of having received 340,000 United States Dollars on the count of Chapter Four Uganda in Absa Bank ,Garden City Branch. According to the state, these monies were proceeds of crime.
However, months later without the trial kicking off, Opiyo filed his application in the High Court asking charges to be dismissed on grounds that it appeared police was not demonstrating progress in concluding investigations which in his view the charges were malicious, unjust and unfair.
Opiyo through his lawyer David Mpanga also noted that the delay to start the trial has infringed on his right to fair and speedy trial provided in the constitution and it has also put him to a great expense and suffering his reputation band image as a human rights lawyer.
However, the DPP through State Attorney Stephen Ariong opposed Opiyo’s application relying on an affidavit of Stanley Baine who argued that due to COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the nationwide lockdown, it slowed down the movement of investigators in gathering vital evidence.
The DPP further attributed the delay to the closure of operations of the Anti-Corruption Court in June 2021 when some staff members tested positive for coronavirus.
It’s against this background that the Judge has given them seven days to have Opiyo committed for trial or the charges against him will be terminated as provided for under the law.
Opiyo’s Chapter Four Uganda has since been closed by the government of Uganda together with 53 other Non Governmental Organizations for alleged failure to comply with legislation covering their operations.