The State on Monday dropped the money laundering charges that had been slapped against a top human rights lawyer, ending a nine-month legal battle against him.
The dropping of the charges against Mr Nicholas Opiyo, came days after Anti-Corruption judge, Lawrence Gidudu, gave the State a seven-day ultimatum to either conclude the investigations and commit him to the High Court for trial or have the case terminated for delayed prosecution.
“This is to inform the court that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), has decided to discontinue proceedings against Opiyo Nicholas charged with money laundering contrary to section 3 (c), 116, and 136 (1) of the Anti-Money Laundering Act as amended,” reads in part the withdrawal notice signed off by DPP Jane Frances Abodo.
To that effect, the presiding magistrate, Moses Nabende, discontinued the said charges against Mr Opiyo and freed him.
“It’s hereby ordered that proceedings against the accused person, (Opiyo Nicholas) charged with money laundering, are discontinued by virtue of the withdraw form serial no. 1547 dated September 10. The accused person (Mr Opiyo) is discharged accordingly,” he held.
The magistrate further ordered the State to refund Shs15m which Mr Opiyo had deposited as one of the conditions for his release earlier this year.
Mr Opiyo, the Executive Director of Chapter Four Uganda, was arrested in December last year and subsequently, charged with money laundering.
The prosecution had alleged that Mr Opiyo on October 8, 2020, at ABSA Bank Garden City Branch, in Kampala District, acquired $340,000 (about Shs1.2 billion) through ABSA Bank account No.6004078045 in the names of Chapter Four Uganda, knowing at the time of receipt that the said funds were proceeds of crime.
As time went by without committing him to the High Court for trial, Mr Opiyo through his lawyers complained that since January this year, the prosecution was merely updating the court of how investigations into his case are ever in progress without being concluded.
He had further contended that the delay to prosecute his case had, infringed on his right to a fair and speedy trial provided in article 28 (1) of the constitution before demanding the discontinuation of the same.
He added that the delayed trial had put him to great expense and suffering in his reputation and image as a human rights lawyer.
But in response, the prosecution had argued that their investigations were hampered by the lockdown brought about Covid-19.
However, Mr David F. Mpanga, the lawyer who was representing Mr Opiyo, rejected the prosecution’s explanation on grounds that banks remained open throughout the lockdown.
Speaking to Daily Monitor about the withdrawal, Ms Jacquelyn Okui, the spokesperson of the office of the DPP said: “Upon reviewing the case file, the DPP noted the need for additional evidence; both national and transnational before committal which could not be secured within the timeline given by the court.”
“Therefore, she (DPP Abodo) found it prudent to withdraw the matter from the court for these evidential areas to be cleared before taking a final prosecutorial decision,” she added.