Ndeeba Church Demolition; Court Urges Swift Prosecution of Case

The Chief Magistrate of the Anti-Corruption Court, Joan Aciro, has urged the state to speed up the prosecution of criminal cases against businessman Dodoviko Mwanje and others, who are accused of demolishing St. Peter’s Church in Ndeeba, Kampala.

Aciro noted on Monday morning that delays in the case have been primarily caused by the state, hindering the progress of the court proceedings. For example, she pointed out that while the court has allotted a full day for hearing witness testimony, the prosecution has over time chosen to present one witness per day.

“If we continue to bring only one witness from the list of over 20, and sometimes they spill over to the next hearing, when will this end? I think we should bring more witnesses per day next time, let’s expedite this matter” the magistrate stated.

The case in question was transferred from Makindye to the Anti-Corruption Court in Kampala on December 9, 2020. Throughout 2021, the prosecution repeatedly noted that they were still investigating. After the investigation was completed, the case faced further adjournments as the defense insisted on pre-trial disclosure. At one point, the presiding magistrate threatened to dismiss the case for want of prosecution.

The prosecution was expected to present more witnesses when the case resumed on Monday, but the hearing could not proceed as the court was informed that the state attorney handling the case, Noah Kunya, had been transferred and the new attorney, Adams Wasswa, needed time to review the file before proceeding.

The communication did not sit well with the defense team led by Ambrose Tebyasa, who characterized it as a weakness. “Your Honor, transfers in the Office of the DPP don’t happen abruptly; they must be planned. They should have given the file to the new attorney in time. Now, we have lost this day and so have other court users. Take the accused for example; they don’t have any income while on interdiction and they struggle to get transportation to court,” he said.

Tebyasa further requested the court to send a message to the Directorate of Public Prosecution-DPP to ensure that similar incidents do not occur in the future, not just in this case but in other cases as well.

The magistrate agreed with the defense lawyer’s assessment, stating abrupt transfer of case file to new attorney’s a day to hearing not only wastes time for the defense and accused but also disrupts the operation of the court.

“Now we are adjourning this matter and the entire day is disrupted,” Aciro stated before adjourning the matter until March 17, 2023. “I had allocated the entire day for this case; if you had informed me earlier about the development, I could have allocated other files on this day.”

Mwanje and several others, including five police officers, a Gombolola Internal Security Officer, and two employees of the Kampala Capital City Authority, were arrested in August of the previous year in connection with the demolition of St. Peter’s Church in Ndeeba during a land dispute involving Mwanje, members of the Buganda Royal Family, and church leaders.

According to court records, Mwanje is accused of theft of church properties worth 850 million Shillings, while the six police officers and the GISO are accused of abuse of power, corruption, conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor, and disobedience of lawful orders.

So far, four witnesses have been brought by the prosecution to implicate the accused in the crimes. Most of these witnesses are from the Kampala Capital City Authority.

In addition to these criminal charges, Mwanje is also facing another civil case regarding the ownership of the land that houses St. Peter’s Church in Ndeeba. The Principal Judge, Dr. Flavian Zeija, overturned a judgement that was based on the sale of the disputed land to Mwanje in favour of the princess’ family, and ordered a retrial of the case.  

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