KAMPALA – The Supreme Court, in a judgment read by Justice Esther Mayambala Kisakye on Friday May 8 2020 quashed the conviction of Ms Sarah Bireete on charhges of embezzlement.
Ms Bireete has been battling her conviction by the High Court, later upheld by the Court of Appeal for the last ten years.
The charges originated from her time as a National Coordinator for the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
A refund of approximately USD 100,000 to the Ministry from the organisation’s Bujumbura Secretariat caused acrimony at the Ministry and resulted into the charges against her after a significant portion of the said refund disappeared.
In 2009, Ms Bireete was charged before the Anti-Corruption court and Justice JB Katutsi, now retired, convicted her of abuse of office and embezzlement. Ms Bireete’s attorneys argued that the sentence was inspite of the prosecution evidence from the police investigators indicating that the then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the cashier were at fault for the loss of the funds.
The High court Judge sentenced her to ten years’ imprisonment. She appealed to the Court of Appeal.
In 2016, the Court of Appeal acquitted her on the charge of abuse of office but maintained the conviction for embezzlement. She appealed this decision to the Supreme Court.
In a majority 4 to 1 decision, Supreme Court Justices Prof. Lillian Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza, Eldad Mwangusya, Rubby Opio-Aweri and Paul Mugamba ruled that the prosecution case against Ms Bireete did not satisfy the burden of proof especially given that there was no evidence directly linking her to receipt of the said refund. They therefore unanimously acquitted her of the embezzlement charge.
Speaking after the decision, Ms Bireete’s Defence lawyer Jude Byamukama observed that the Supreme Court had reached a correct decision and rectified the mistakes of lower courts in failing to meticulously review the evidence against his client in view of her defence.
He regretted that his client had suffered this ordeal for over 10 years.