A whistleblower has petitioned the police chief, Martins Okoth Ochola, to investigate officers attached to Entebbe airport over extortion and illegal detention of gold traders.
In the dossier dated February 20 seen by The Observer, the whistleblower, who says is a concerned police officer, claims top police officials have made it a habit to extort bribes from gold exporters under the guise that the gold lacks proper documentation.
“I would like to bring to your attention senior officers who are tainting the image of Uganda Police Force by forcing people exporting minerals, especially gold, to offer bribes or else they forge excuses to delay or confiscate it,” reads part of the dossier.
“I cannot mention names right now for fear of reprisals from my seniors but I pray you institute a probe into how senior officers at the airport have amassed a lot of wealth from extortion. I would like to meet you in person to furnish you with the details,” she said.
In recent years, gold has eclipsed coffee as Uganda’s biggest export with more than $834m (about Shs 3 trillion) earned in 2019 alone, making it the leading individual foreign exchange earner.
Conversely, the gold export boom has also attracted immense interest from the Entebbe Aviation Police and according to the whistleblower; “many senior police officers have either become brokers/agents of gold smugglers or frustrate genuine traders.”
Baker Kawonawo, the Entebbe division police commander, could not be reached for a comment but his deputy referred us to Entebbe Airport Aviation Police. When The Observer visited the station, officers declined to comment on the issue.
However, we found a complainant, Derrick Lukanda Kibirango, who was protesting that the aviation police confiscated his 10kg of gold destined for Germany on grounds that it lacked proper verification documents.
He added that the police went ahead to detain his three workers involved in the consignment. Meanwhile, the gold is being kept at the airport's customs custody.
According to the records, aviation police intercepted the gold, worth about Shs 400m, on February 17. The consignee is registered as Apollonia Schonberger.
“They demanded a certificate of verification of the gold origin but when I presented it, they refused to accept it until I give them a share but I will not budge because everything is clean,” he said.
Lukanda showed The Observer original copies of Shs 77 million tax clearance certificates from Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) dated January 27, 2020, the air waybill, verification of origin by the Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry as well as a certificate from the Department of Geological Survey and Mines.
“I know they are delaying me so that I pay them a bribe but I will not…but this delay is hurting my business because the recipient is going to charge me extra money.”
Meanwhile, Tom Lugambi, the lawyer for the detained gold dealers, has vowed to bring concerned officers to book.
“We will not bow to pressure and give anyone a bribe because the gold possesses all the required paperwork,” he said. “The continued holding of my clients after the expiry of 48 hours also violates their rights.”
Reached out for a comment, Patrick Onyango, the Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson, said he is not yet aware of the dossier but said police will investigate the matter when the file reaches the appropriate authorities.
“If the owner presented all the documents as required, there is no reason to continue holding the gold. All officers found to be colluding to hold the gold will be held accountable,” he said.