By Simon Komakech
Irrefutable details, backed by over 12 pages of official documents, point to how prominent Lira businessmen Patrick Olet, the proprietor of the Gracious Palace Hotel, Lira; Patrick Ogweng, the Deputy Town Clerk, Lira; and Geoffrey Omara, the Physical Planner, Lira, escaped jail over fraud.
In the end, they ended, Olet, for instance, ended up paying a fine of Shs 6 million in exchange for his freedom.
“l offer my plea of guilty freely and voluntarily and with full understanding of all the matters set forth in the charges and in this form and that no one has made any threats, used any force a against me, my family, or loved ones, or made any promises to me except form, in order to convince me to plead guilty,” part of his plea reads.
On November 15, 2022; the State House Anti-Corruption Unit preferred charges related to fraud against Olet and two others – Ogweng and Omara.
This, for irregularly processing a Freehold title for Plot 2 lsaya Ogwanguzu Road in Lira City, The background to the prosecution case against Olet is that during the year 2018, he approached Omara for advice on how he could acquire a piece of land / service lane, which is between his Fuel Station and the Mayor’s Gardens in Lira Municipal Council (as it then was). The service lane is the property of Lira Municipal Council and it is one of the properties under Lira District Land Board.
ln response, Omara called the Chairperson of the Area Land Committee, one Odong Bodyguard (hereinafter referred to “the Chairperson”) and asked him to help Olet to acquire the said piece of land. Omara drove the Chairperson to the District Oftices and asked him to pick a Public Notice, which was supposed to be issued by the Area Land Committee giving notice to any person claiming any interest in the land which is the subject of application or adjacent land, which may be affected by the application. However, when the Chairperson presented the Notice to Omara, he told him that what Olet actually wanted was a Freehold interest over the service lane; as opposed to a Lease interest.
Under normal circumstances, however, an application for such Munrcipal land is supposed to be for a lease interest as opposed to Freehold, which is granted to customary owners who apply for conversion to Freehold. The Chairperson then went back and picked Form 10, which is the notice of hearing of application for grant of Freehold.
After the lapse of the 14 days that are stipulated under the Land Act, all the 3 accused persons, together with the Chairperson Area Land Committee and other District officials assembled at the service lane for inspection as procedurally required under the Land Act. However, apart from the Chairperson of the Area Land Committee, none of the other members of the Committee was present during inspection as required under the Land Act. lnstead; the Chairperson took the lnspeclion Report to them and asked them to sign indicating that they participated in the inspection whereas not.
During the lnspection, Omara drew the Sketch Plan for the service lane, which is the subject of the application is supposed to be drawn by the Chairperson Area Land Committee. The Sketch Plan was drawn on the Demarcation Form for Certificate of Customary Ownership (Form 23) and it also signed by A3 indicating that he was the Customary Owner of the service lane.
lnvestigations, however, established that Olet has never held any customary interest or any other form of interest / ownership over the service lane. The land belongs to Lira Municipal Council (as it then was).
The inspection report together with Form 23 among other documents were submitted to the District Land Board, which unwittingly approved the conversion from customary to freehold ownership. After the grant by the District Land Board, Olet submitted a batch of documents to the Lira Ministry Zonal Offlce (MZO) for processing of the title for the service lane in his name.
Among the documents that were submitted by Olet include: Form 23, which falsely indicated that he was a customary owner of the service lane, whereas not. The documents also included an lnspection Report, which wrongly showed that the service lane rightly belonged to him whereas not. Another document he submitted was an extract of the Lira District Land Board Minutes, which showed that he (Olet) was the registered proprietor of land located at Senior Quarters (B) Village, Senior Quarters Parish, Central Division, whereas not. The documents further included a letter dated 30th April 2018 addressed to the Secretary Lira Diskict Land Board purporting that the Physical Planning Committee meeting held in April 2018 had approved Olet’s application forgrant of Freehold title for Plot 2, lsaya Ogwanguzi Road, Senior Quarters B, Lira Central Division. Police evidence, however, established that there was no such meeting held by the physical Planning Committee and the minute referred to in the afore-mentroned letter was non-existent. Further, although Olet had applied for a Freehold interest in respect of the service lane between his fuel station and the Mayois Gardens, the grant that was given him was in respect of Plot 2, lsaya Ogwanguzi Road, which actually belongs to one Belja Charles, who has a running lease of 49 years. This is totally different from the service lane which he applied for.
The total effect of the documents that were submitted by Olet was to falsely indicate that he owned the service lane in issue and therefore qualified for conversion of the grant of conversion from customary ownership, whereas not. The documents further misrepresented that the proper processes for the grant of freehold had been complied with whereas not. All these falsehoods were known to Olet but he went ahead and submitted the afore-mentioned documents to MZO.
Count 3 of the Charge Sheet
Olet is said to have conspired with Ogweng to defraud Lira Municipal Council of its reversionary interest in Plot 2 lsaya Ogwanguzi Road by seeking the same to be converted from leasehold tenure to freehold tenure.
He is also accused of conspiring with Omara to defraud Lira Municipal Council of the service lane by falsely representing that Ogweng was a customary owner of the service lane in issue and therefore, qualified for conversion to the grant of freehold, whereas he was not.
Mayor’s Garden being a public land and with Olet’s actions intended to deprive Lira Municipal Council of the said public good, he was charged with a sentence of 3 years’ imprisonment without the option of a fine. He was also charged for fraud and dishonesty.
Olet’s road to a plea was argued based on the fact that he was a first time offender, and that he readily accepted to plead guilty at the earliest opportunity, thereby saving the court’s time, and was ready to abide by the terms of this agreement. Above all, he had not yet obtained the title to the land.
However, the prosecution zeroed in on a charge of Conspiracy to Defraud C/S 309 of the Penal Code Act Cap 120.
The charge carries a fine of Three Million Shillings only (UGX. 3,000,000/=) or, in default, three years’ imprisonment.
The second count was Conspiracy to Defraud C/S 309 of the Penal Code Act, Cap. 120, or a fine of Three Million Shillings only (UGX. 3,000,000/=) or in default to serve three years’ imprisonment. The fines are to run consecutively, which implies that Olet would pay a total of UGX 6,000,000/= (Six Million Shillings Only).
However, he was barred from holding a Public office for a period of 10 years from the date of his conviction.
What Olet said in his plea (Verbatim)
l, Olet Patrick hereby, freely and voluntarily plead guilty to the charges of; count 3: conspiracy to Defraud C/S 309 of the Penal Code Act Cap 120 and Count 5: Conspiracy to Defraud C/S 30 of the Penal of the Penal Code Act Cap 20. l agree to be sentenced to a fine of three million shillings only (UGX. 3,000,000) or in default to serve 3 years’ imprisonment on count 3 and to a fine of Three Million Shillings only (UGX. 3,000,000), or in default to serve ‘l-year imprisonment on Count 5. The fines are to run consecutively, which implies that I will pay a total of UGX 6,000,000 (six Million Shillings Only). Prior to entering this plea, I have had a full opportunity to discuss with my advocate the facts of
my case, the elements of the charged offense(s), any defenses that I may have, my Constitutional rights and waiver of those rights, and the consequences of my plea.
1. l offer my plea of guilty freely, voluntarily, and with full understanding of all the matters set forth in the charges and in this form and that no one has made any threats, used any force against me, my family, or loved ones, or made any promises to me except form, in order to convince me to plead guilty.
2. I stipulate and agree that there is a factual basis for my plea(s) and admission(s).
3. I am not under the influence of any substance or suffering from any medical condition, that is or may be impairing my ability to enter into this plea agreement.
4. I have no further questions of the court or of counsel with regard to my plea (s) and admission (s) in this case.
What Olet’s lawyer said (Verbatim)
I am the advocate for the accused person. I have reviewed this form with my client. I have explained each of the accused’s rights to him/her and answered all of his or her questions with regard to those rights and this plea, I have also discussed the facts of the case with the accused, and explained the nature and elements of each charge, any possible defenses to the charges, the effect of any special allegations and enhancements, and the consequences of the plea I concur in the plea and any related admission and in the waiver of the accused’s constitutional and statutory rights, and I hereby stipulate that there is a factual basis for the plea.
I have explained to the accused that, to the best of my knowledge and information, the prosecution has provided me with all information and evidence that might play a significant role in his or her defense, or exculpate the accused, and I know of no reason why the accused should not plead guilty to this charge.
What the prosecutor said (Verbatim)
I am the representative ofthe prosecuting institution and have reviewed this form with the accused person. I have explained to the accused and answered all of his or her questions with regard to this plea. I have also discussed the facts of the case with the accused and explained the nature and elements of each charge, any possible defenses to the charges and the consequences of the full trial.
I have explained to the accused to the best of my knowledge, the prosecution has as far as is prudent provided all information and evidence that might play a significant role in the event of a full trial and that the accused knows of no reason why the he should not plead to this charge (s).
What the Magistrate said (Verbatim)
The court, having reviewed this form, and having questioned the accused concerning accused’s constitutional rights, flnds that the accused has expressly, knowingly, understandingly, and intelligently waived and given up his or her constitutional and statutory rights. The Court finds that the accused’s pleas and admissions are freely and voluntarily made with an understanding of the nature and consequences thereof, that any allegations as indicated in this form are true, and that there is a factual basis for the pleas and admissions. The Court accepts the accused’s pleas. The Court orders that this form be filed and incorporated in the docket by reference as though fully set forth therein.