Court charges Ugandan rights lawyer with money laundering ahead of vote

by Reuters
Thursday, 24 December 2020 16:25 GMT

KAMPALA, Dec 24 (Reuters) - A Ugandan court on Thursday charged a prominent human rights lawyer and government critic with money laundering, in a case his organisation said was part of a crackdown on dissent ahead of elections next month.

Nicholas Opiyo heads Chapter Four Uganda, a civil liberties watchdog that has helped to defend leaders and supporters of opposition parties detained on political charges. Police arrested him on Tuesday.

Chief Magistrate Douglas Singiza did not allow him to make a plea, saying the court he appeared in did not have the jurisdiction to handle the money laundering case.

The charge sheet said that on Oct. 8, 2020, Opiyo acquired $340,000 through an ABSA Bank account in the name of Chapter Four Uganda, "knowing at the time of receipt that the said funds were proceeds of crime".

Opiyo was remanded to Kitalya Government Prison until Dec. 28 and his case file was transferred to the anti-corruption court, which has jurisdiction to try money laundering cases, judiciary spokesman Solomon Muyita said.

His organisation condemned his arrest as an "abduction and incommunicado detention" of its leader and said it was concerned about his safety and well-being. After he was charged on Thursday, they called the charges frivolous and said they would issue a statement explaining the case was an "abuse of due process".

It was not immediately possible to reach any lawyer representing him.

Voters are due to head to the polls on Jan. 14 to elect a new president and lawmakers.

Yoweri Museveni, 76, who has ruled the east African country since 1986, is facing off against Robert Kyagulanyi, a pop star turned lawmaker known as Bobi Wine.

Last month, at least 54 people were killed as military and police personnel battled to suppress a large demonstration to demand the release of Kyagulanyi after he was briefly detained over alleged violations of anti-coronavirus measures. (Reporting by Andrew Bagala Writing by Maggie Fick; editing by Barbara Lewis)

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