Already heavily criticized for sometimes operating as a militia of the ruling party, Uganda police over the weekend came face-to-face with a multi-billion narcotics racket involving top officers within its ranks.
Nine officers attached to its illegal drugs department, including the commissioner in charge of narcotics, Tinka Zerugaba, were confirmed to be under arrest as investigations into the scandal unfolded.
The police spokesman in charge of Criminal Intelligence and Investigations Directorate (CIID), Vincent Sekate, said the suspects were detained at the notorious Nalufenya police station in Jinja.
“Their file is still at CIID headquarters with the lead team investigator, Mark Odongo. I don’t know when they will appear in court since investigations are still on,” he said.
Zerugaba was formerly head of intelligence, Aviation Police at Entebbe International Airport. Also arrested was SCP Lodovic Awita, the commandant of Very Important Persons Protection Unit (VIPPU). Awita was also a former commandant of Aviation police.
Others are Detective Superintendent of Police Mataric Emmoly Nataria, the former O/C CIID Entebbe Aviation police (about two years ago Nataria was suspended for misconduct), SP David Francis Owiny, VIPPU’s Michael Semuwemba, Sgt Julius Mwesigwa, Sgt Deogratious Muhebwa, Cpl Derrick Odiambo and PC Eriphase Karugaba.
They are being held on allegations of tampering with narcotics exhibits and theft of 85kg of narcotics drugs, with an estimated street value of Shs 13 billion, from police stores between 2011 and 2015.
Sekate said the officers were arrested by Flying Squad headed by Herbert Muhangi on Friday and taken to Nalufenya for safe custody. Flying Squad is a police unit authorised to combat serious crime.
Sekate said the suspects would be charged with tampering with narcotics exhibits and that investigations have been ongoing at CIID headquarters since 2015.
“We are in the process of auditing and reviewing the department of anti-narcotics in police. This is why the officers were arrested since drugs had been lost on the way and in police stores. We are cleaning up wrong elements,” he said.
Police sources allege that the suspects have not been destroying narcotics drugs after arresting traffickers.
“The suspected police officers have been selling the drugs which they had recovered from the narcotics drug suspects.
They had been stealing these drugs from police stores and selling them to businessmen in town behind doors. So, police started investigations until they arrested them,” a source said.
Sources said the theft of the 85kg was reported at Entebbe police station in 2015. Investigations stalled – allegedly because of interference from colluding officers in counter terrorism and intelligence.
When Inspector General of Police Gen Kale Kayihura got intelligence information that his officers were conniving with drug traffickers to switch drugs, he reportedly ordered the Police Compliance Unit led by SSP Susan Kasingye to take up the matter.
SSP Kasingye’s investigations included a raid on the exhibit stores at Aviation police and impounding of narcotics exhibits. When checked at government analytical laboratory in Wandegeya, tests revealed that the contents of the packets had been switched with maize flour.
Entebbe has become notorious as a transit route for narcotics smugglers mainly because Uganda’s laws had until recently been extremely lenient to people arrested with controlled substances. A suspected trafficker usually walked free after paying between just Shs 1 million and Shs 2 million in fines.
Under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act, 2016, an attempt was made to stiffen penalties with a fine of Shs 10 million or three times the market value of the drug, whichever is greater, or imprisonment of a minimum of ten years or both.