By our reporter
Readers will recall that last year, this Newspaper broke the story of a controversial property transaction in which the Government of Equatorial Guinea lost colossal sums of taxpayers’ money. The story put the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the spotlight after it emerged that one of its senior officers (an Ambassador) was at the heart of the corruption scandal. This officer is said to have illicitly obtained staggering amounts of United States Dollars in the transaction.
The property in question is a three-bedroom residential building on Plot No. 31 Mackenzie Vale in Kololo which was “purchased” by the Government of Equatorial Guinea to house its Embassy in Kampala. It is in Leasehold Register Volume 2362 Folio 3 and sits on about 30 decimals of land. The lease has only twenty-six (26) years to run. The three-bedroom house was formerly Srilankan Ambassador to Uganda Veluppillai Kananathan’s private residence.
The dodgy transaction involved Mr. Veluppillai Kananathan, the property owner and seller and a First Secretary at the Embassy of Equatorial Guinea in Kampala who at the time was Chargé d’affaires at the Embassy. The senior officer at MOFA facilitated the entire nefarious enterprise and also oversaw critical operations that ensured its success.
It will also be recalled that this senior officer in MOFA had strategically positioned himself to replace Mr. Solomon Rutega as Uganda’s Consul General in Guangzhou, China. Mr. Rutega relinquished the post following his election as Secretary General of the Inter African Coffee Organisation. However, the senior officer was found wanting on different fronts and his bid was nipped in the bud. Ms. Judith Nsababeera was instead appointed in the position.
We can now exclusively reveal that many months down the road, the parties have failed to transfer the property owing to legal impediments. Information reaching us indicates that the Board of Uganda Land Commission (from which Amb. Kananathan obtained the lease) has queried the transaction and declined to proceed. In addition to querying the manner in which the transaction was done, the Commission directed that the Chief Government Valuer undertake an independent valuation exercise of the property (formerly a three-bedroom residential property).
The Chief Government Valuer returned a value of 3,370,000,000UGX which is equivalent to nine hundred thirty-six thousand five hundred United States Dollars ($936,500), a clear indication of a manifestly inflated transaction. There were attempts by the senior officer to court the Chief Government Valuer’s office so that a favourable value could be engineered. However, the office knew better and proceeded cautiously, well aware that this matter was being quietly monitored by higher authorities. Attempts by the senior officer and a lawyer at MOFA to privately “engage” officials in the Ministry of Lands and at Uganda Land Commission have also proved fruitless.
The story this newspaper broke last year detailed the villainous manner in which the “deal” was carefully designed and executed by the senior officer at MOFA. The spoils of the deal were shared between the senior officer and the First Secretary at the Embassy.
We revealed how a small three-bedroom house seated on less than 30 decimals and whose initial asking price was one million United States Dollars ($1,000,000) was “sold” for a mind-boggling sum of one million seven hundred thousand United States Dollars ($1,700,000).
The difference was to be “kicked-back” to the senior officer and the First Secretary. Sources in the Embassy revealed to us that these two individuals shared five hundred thousand United States Dollars ($500,000) between them. In addition, the senior officer at MOFA received a further two hundred thousand United States Dollars ($200,000) which had been earmarked for what he called “the sixth floor” at the Ministry (jargon used to refer to Ministers who occupy the upper-most floor of the Ministry).
The senior officer had made it clear that the Ministers had to be taken care of if the transaction was to be concluded successfully. It is not clear whether the Ministers received their portion of the spoils. The seller took home one million United States Dollars ($1,000,000).
We also revealed how, just days after the “transaction,” the senior officer wrote a letter (a copy of which we reproduced in last year’s edition of the story) to Airport Authorities at Entebbe authorizing the First Secretary to ferry money out of the country in a diplomatic bag.
An X-ray scan revealed a bag full of U.S. currency bills. Authorities could neither seize nor open the diplomatic bag since this is protected under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961). However, he was questioned. The senior officer at MOFA called the Authorities at this point and advised them to let the First Secretary proceed with his easy-earned spoils.
We have also since established that the First Secretary is stuck in Uganda having failed to obtain the legal transfer of title to the property. Although he was officially recalled by his home government following the botched transaction, he cannot safely return before title to the property is legally obtained. Meanwhile, one of the diplomats at the Embassy who lifted the lid on the dirty transaction was transferred from Kampala to another Embassy for their own safety. Watch this space!
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