Minutes after the army court set him free, Col Shaban Bantariza, the former director of the National Leadership Institute, Kyankwanzi (NALI), said he had forgiven his tormentors.
In all, Bantariza has fought and won seven fraud-related charges during a trial that lasted one and half years. Overall, the state accused Bantariza of withdrawing Shs 67m from NALI and using it to purchase an institute tractor, which it claims was a donation.
In his ruling on Tuesday at Makindye, the General Court Martial chairman Maj Gen Levi Karuhanga said prosecution with all its 11 witnesses, did not discharge the burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt.
“In the final result, we are unable to find the accused guilty of any of the offences charged and accordingly acquit him. He is at liberty unless otherwise held on other lawful charges,” Karuhanga ruled prompting Bantariza to praise God.
Flanked by his lawyer Frank Kanduho, Bantariza told The Observer that he had forgiven his tormentors. He added, however, that his tormentors were not from the president’s office but are individuals within government who are bent on tarnishing his “good” name.
“Of course if it was government accusing me of the alleged charges, its officials would not have paid for my legal fees which act I’m very grateful for,” said Bantariza, who promised to throw a big victory party in the greater Bushenyi soon.
Col Shaban Bantariza was acquitted
Prodded to reveal the tormentors, Bantariza refused to name them. During his defence in court, Bantariza said the third prosecution witness (PW3) Capt Edson Muheirwoha (formerly an employee of NALI) who was detained in Makindye military barracks for a year pinned him in court because he was promised to be released by the chief of defence forces.
Kanduho, in his final submission argued that Muheirwoha was a special suspect under special incarceration whose evidence against his client was furnished by his bosses.
In his ruling yesterday, Karuhanga said that Muheirwoha’s evidence indeed shows that he was a special suspect who was released without trial despite his principal role in the commission of the acts for which Bantariza was indicted.
“The witness was released as soon as he had testified against the accused. The way he was handled and the proximity between the testimony in court and the release from incarceration lead to an [irresistible] inference that his testimony in as far as it related to handing over the money to the accused is doubtable,” said Karuhanga.
Evaluating the evidence, Karuhanga said prosecution would have been expected to call a witness from the ministry of finance to prove that the tractor was indeed a donation.
Court also said it would have been important for the prosecution to invite a witness from Akamba (U) Ltd, the company that supplied the tractor to testify to the circumstances under which the said tractor was supplied to NALI.
Karuhanga noted that the lack of this kind of evidence leaves court speculating as to how and when the tractor moves to the institute and hence renders the court unable to establish whether the transition was fraudulent.
In the judgment, court agreed that this piece of evidence was corroborated by Muheirwoha who court proved that he received the said Shs 67m but testified to court that he handed the same to the accused, a fact Bantariza denied. According to Muheirwoha, the tractor is in fact available at the institute.
“The burden is upon the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused person beyond reasonable doubt. It is also the law that the accused cannot be convicted on account of the weakness of his defence but should only be convicted on the strength of evidence presented by the prosecution,” added Byaruhanga.
Kanduho congratulated court for fairly dispensing justice.
“This verdict serves as a warning to public officers not to tarnish people’s names recklessly. If he was entrusted with a billion of money, why would he steal a mere Shs 67m purported to have been donated and why did the accusers fail to bring a single witness from the ministry of Finance,” said Kanduho.
Bantariza said that after fulfilling Jesus’ command of forgiving his enemies 70 times seven times, he is now ready to be reinstated to his former job or anywhere else.
Source : The Observer