Minister caught red-handed with Shs 10 million bribe
With Shs 50,000 notes strewn all over the table in front of him, the minister of state for Labour, Herbert Kabafunzaki, sat ashen-faced, unsure of what to do, as detectives gathered evidence to build a bribery case against him.
It didn’t help matters for the clearly shaken minister that a group of journalists flashing television and still photo cameras were mobbing him at the Serena Kampala hotel.
These extraordinary events played out on Saturday afternoon, when police arrested Kabafunzaki on suspicion of receiving a bribe from businessman Hamid Muhammad, the managing director of Aya group of companies.
The Rukiga county MP was nabbed by security operatives from police and Special Forces Command (SFC) at 3:30pm at Serena’s Explorer bar after Muhammad handed him Shs 10 million.
Confused and taken aback, the minister, who was clad in a pair of blue jeans, a checked shirt and jacket, just looked on and occasionally flashed a sheepish smile.
The Observer understands that the minister had asked for the money a couple of weeks ago to ignore complaints of sexual harassment from some workers at Pearl of Africa hotel, which is owned by Muhammad.
According to our sources, President Museveni personally sanctioned the arrest this week after Muhammad and security operatives briefed him about Kabafunzaki’s unbecoming behaviour.
The senior presidential press secretary, Don Wanyama, told The Observer that the minister’s arrest was testimony that even big fish will not be spared in the fight against corruption.
“The president is serious about fighting corruption and he has made it clear under this Kisanja Hukuna Mchezo [no-nonsense presidential term of office],” he said. “The arrest of the minister is, therefore, a big sign that the president is serious. He is tired of corruption.”
Muhammad told journalists on Saturday that two weeks ago, the group of workers at the hotel, Nakasero, went to Kabafunzaki and accused him of under-paying them, as well as harassing some of them sexually.
Kabafunzaki went to the hotel to investigate the allegations. The minister met management, including Muhammad, and raised the workers’ queries with him.
The businessman claimed that the minister later proposed an amicable solution to the problem. According to Muhammad, the minister asked for Shs 30 million to “kill” the matter.
Management reportedly told him they did not have the money at that moment, but they assured him that they would have got it in one week’s time.
“The minister said, ‘it’s okay.’ He gave us one week,” the controversial businessman said.
Muhammad says he later called President Museveni and complained that a minister was trying to solicit a bribe from him. Museveni instructed some SFC officers to work with police and the businessman to trap the minister.
After one week, the SFC advised the businessman to call the minister and tell him that he had so far got only Shs 10 million. Mid last week, Muhammad called Kabafunzaki and told him he had been able to get only Shs 10 million.
Kabufunzaki reportedly said it’s fine and they agreed to meet on Saturday at Serena to finalize the deal. On Saturday, Kabunfanzaki went to the hotel as agreed. A few minutes later, Muhammad arrived and the two went to the Explorer bar.
After exchanging a few pleasantries, the businessman handed over Shs 10 million, in denominations of 50,000. Moments later, undercover security operatives, who were stationed in the same bar, arrested the minister.
Kabafunzaki, who was arrested with two other individuals who we could not identify by press time, claimed he had been framed by the Sudan-born businessman.
“It’s a concoction. I didn’t do anything. The cameras are there. I didn’t. I didn’t,” the minister insisted, before detectives quickly whisked him away in a saloon vehicle with official police number plates.
Kabafunzaki was reportedly taken for custody at Nalufenya police prison, Jinja.
Joshua Tusingwire, the OC/CID at the Central police station, who was part of the operation, said the minister will be charged with obtaining money by false pretence.
Kabafunzaki becomes the second serving minister over the last two years to be arrested over corruption- related charges. Abraham Byandala, the former minister of works, was arrested in July 2015 for his role in the botched procurement of Mukono-Katosi road project contract.
Yet unlike Byandala, whose case is still before court, Kabafunzaki’s arrest was carried out in full view of the media. This is likely to complicate his position in cabinet. In the event that he does not resign, the president could sack him.
Kabafunzaki’s arrest comes shortly after two senior officials in the ministry of finance were apprehended for soliciting a bribe from a Chinese investor. The officials appeared before the Anti-Corruption court on Friday.