Kampala, Uganda | By Edward Ronald Sekyewa | What started as a well-intended deal between two city businessmen has left one of them bruised and on the verge of losing all the assets that he acquired over decades of toiling. This tale, which started in the second half of 2008, saw Dr. Boney Katatumba enter into a deal to sell his prime property, Blacklines House on Colville Street in Kampala, to Shukla Mukesh of the SHUMUK group of companies, a deal which has now gone sour with each party accusing the other of wrongdoing. KD’s Investigative Desk takes you to the bottom of this story.
In an agreement signed on August 16th 2008, Katatumba agreed to sell his property to Mukesh at a cost of US $5 million. To this effect, Katatumba gave Mukesh a list of creditors who were supposed to be paid. These included Crane Bank which was supposed to receive US $2,450,000, Virani was to get US $750,000, Harish US $200,000, Tecton US $200,000, a certain Lule US $400,000, Centenary Bank US $100,000, Arvind Patel US $500,000, Ben Kavuya US $200,000 and city lawyer Charles Odere US $200,000, making a total of US $5 million. This particular agreement was signed in the presence of Arvind Patel, who introduced Mukesh to Katatumba. Mukesh is Patel’s nephew.
However, two months after signing this agreement, Mukesh approached Katatumba withdrawing from the deal saying that due to the then-international financial downturn, he could not pay up. He instead made an offer for US $4 million, which Katatumba accepted. To effect the new agreement, Mukesh proceeded to pay the creditors as listed in the first agreement. In the new deal, Mukesh was also handed a land title for Katatumba’s Hotel Diplomate in Muyenga, which, according to Katatumba, Mukesh used to acquire a loan from a city bank. Katatumba told KD that before he gave Mukesh that title, they had a discussion where Mukesh showed interest in partnering with Katatumba to revamp Hotel Diplomate, and that this particular property had nothing to do with the sale of Blacklines House (now SHUMUK House). When contacted about this case, Mukesh did not want to divulge anything, although he too was crying foul that Katatumba is out to defraud him.
According to a letter Katatumba wrote on July 8th, 2011, to the Minister of Lands Hon. David Migereko, he states that according to the agreement, Mukesh demanded that if the debts exceed US $5 million, he should have the land titles for Hotel Diplomate to guarantee the excess payments to the debtors. “In order to effect the guarantee, we signed an agreement for sale at US $630,000 which was signed on the same day the new agreement was signed”, Katatumba states.
Mukesh only paid US $3,059,000 and failed to pay the balance, according to Katatumba, which prompted Katatumba to take him to court. While in court before Justice Lameck Mukasa, Mukesh admitted that he owed Katatumba US $1.7 million and a High Court order dated May 20th, 2009, ordered Mukesh to pay that sum to Katatumba. But Mukesh has until today refused to pay that amount.
“Mukesh received that title just because I trusted him and after he had convinced me that he was going to invest in Hotel Diplomate”, Katatumba, who is also the honorary consul for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in Uganda, said. However, he goes on to allege, Mukesh abused the trust by forging documents to show that the hotel had been sold to him. “At one point, I even told my family members to vacate the hotel and give way to Mukesh to renovate it, but they refused and that was a blessing in disguise. If they had vacated as I wanted, Mukesh would have stolen that property long ago”.
The matter became even more complicated because immediately after transferring the titles into his names, Mukesh entered into a hotel management contract with George Kamugisha to manage Hotel Diplomate without the knowledge of Boney Katatumba. This, Katatumba says, was intended to “put my properties beyond my reach by claiming that those parties are bona fide purchasers when indeed, they are simply Mukesh’s men”.
Katatumba said he received the shock of his life when Mukesh sent auctioneers accompanied by police officers to evict him from the hotel. “Mukesh has never paid a cent for this hotel, but using all the crafty methods to steal my property, using several agents in government offices, including officers in the land registry and the President’s Office”, he said.
In particular, Katatumba accuses Ms. Joy Kabatsi, President Museveni’s private secretary on legal affairs, of writing a letter to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) ordering the immediate eviction of Katatumba and his family from Hotel Diplomate. He also accuses the Lands Commissioner in the Lands Ministry – Ms. Sarah Kulata – of abuse of office when she refused to place caveats to the properties in question until the issues concerning them are resolved in the courts of law, and instead changed the ownership of the said properties from Katatumba to Mukesh.
In a letter to the Inspector General of Government (IGG) dated June 29th, 2011, Katatumba states that although Kabatsi referred to his name in the letter to the IGP, she never contacted him to get his side of the story. In her letter to the IGP dated March 22nd, 2011, Kabatsi stated “I have carefully perused the relevant documents and noted that the registered proprietor of the property is Springs International Hotel (Mukesh’s company)”. She went on to say that the dispute between Mukesh and Katatumba in relation to this property was referred to the High Court of Uganda, which decided in favour of Mukesh. “The purpose hereof is to request that you assist George Kamugisha take possession of the property in accordance with the court ruling”, Kabatsi ended her letter to the IGP.
However, documents seen by KD showed that this case is still before court awaiting a ruling. When contacted for a comment about the letter she wrote to the IGP, Kabatsi told KD that she was acting according to the documents she had seen, without divulging any further information.
As for Ms. Sarah Kulata, Katatumba argues that by refusing to place caveats on the said property on the pretext that Mukesh was the lawful owner, she ignored the position of the Commercial Court Registrar dated February 19th, 2010, clarifying an earlier court order dated February 16th, 2010, stating that the question of whether or not the said property had been sold was not yet resolved by court. Asked to comment, Kulata told KD that “I do not talk to the press”, before she hung up.
Another letter dated February 14th, 2011 was written to the Land Commissioner by the Director of Land Matters in the President’s Office – Mrs. Gertrude Njuba – questioning the delay in the placing of caveats on the property under contention. This came after Katatumba had appealed for President Museveni’s intervention in this case, which matter President Museveni assigned Njuba to handle. In his letter to President Museveni, dated February 8th, 2011, Katatumba stated that Shukla Mukesh was conniving with the Commissioner for Land Registration Sarah Kulata to grab his properties. In her letter to Kulata, Njuba noted that there is legitimate fear that the ownership of that property may be tampered with before the dispute is resolved by the court; therefore she requested that the caveats be placed and it be ensured that ownership of the property does not change until the dispute is resolved by court.
This was nevertheless not the case as the Lands Commissioner proceeded to change ownership of the property and issued land titles to Mukesh Shukla. Replying to a query from the office of the IGG about her refusal to place caveats on the properties in question and her issuing of land titles to Mukesh, Ms. Kulata stated that “this office was actually entertaining the caveats in order to ascertain that they comply with the provisions of the law, that they are registrable”.
In the same letter, she informs the IGG that a transfer of titles from Katatumba to Mukesh was effected when her office received a duly signed deed changing ownership of Hotel Diplomate from Katatumba to Mukesh, with Katatumba’s signature appended on that agreement.
However, Katatumba denied ever signing that deed, and it was later ascertained that the signatures on that document were forged after the Uganda Police’s handwriting experts and others from the ministry of Internal Affairs analyzed them. It was also discovered that many other documents allegedly signed by Katatumba and his family members had forged signatures.
Both of Katatumba’s wives, Gertrude Katatumba and Anne Grace Katatumba, each allegedly signed a statutory declaration on November 20th, 2008 consenting to the sale of Hotel Diplomate to Mukesh, but it was later found that their signatures were forged on both documents. These statutory declarations indicate that they were drawn by M/S Kiwanuka & Karugire Advocates, but KD’s efforts to get a comment from the lawyers were futile as they refused to comment. “That case is before court so I am sorry I cannot comment on it”, Mr. Kiryowa Kiwanuka told KD on phone. Mr. Edwin Karugire, the son-in-law to President Museveni, did not answer KD’s calls.
In his report dated March 21st, 2011, about his findings in regard to Gertrude Katatumba’s signature on the statutory declaration, the Senior Government Analyst Mr. Joseph Olanya Okwonga stated, “In my opinion, although the questioned document is in photocopy form, it is highly improbable that the questioned signature on the statutory declaration was executed by Mrs. Gertrude Katatumba”.
Another report concerning the same signature from the Scientific Laboratory of the Police Headquarters in Kampala dated April 21st, 2011, concurs with the earlier finding that it was forged. In this report, the Forensic Examiner of Questioned Documents Samuel Ezati stated that there is pictorial resemblance between the questioned and real signatures, which he attributed to simulation. He however added that “the differences observed between the two signatures are fundamental and such that in my opinion it is very unlikely that the author of the real signature wrote the questioned signature on the statutory declaration.”
Another contentious issue about these documents is that they were only photocopies and no original copies were provided by Mukesh, which raised even more questions about their validity.
For instance, in the case of Ann Grace Katatumba’s signature, Forensic Document Examiner Olanya requested the original copies of the statutory declaration to rule out the possibility of the questioned signature having been electronically transferred onto the document, but the original copy was never produced.
Another document that was allegedly forged is a mortgage deed that Mukesh gave the court stating that he had paid Katatumba US $405,000 for Katatumba Resort Island in Kalangala. In this particular case, Katatumba told KD that he made a loan agreement with Mukesh on January 16th, 2009 where Mukesh was supposed to lend him USh100 million as a soft loan. As security for this loan, Katatumba gave Mukesh his land title for the island. However, Mukesh did not deposit the money as agreed, which prompted Katatumba to contact his lawyers to write to Mukesh asking him to return the land title since he had failed to honour the agreement.
In a letter dated April 2nd, 2009, Lex Uganda Advocates and Solicitors acting on behalf of Katatumba wrote to Mukesh reminding him that “to date, our client has not received any disbursement of the said funds in spite of the repeated reminders. Our client considers the agreement rescinded for lack of consideration. We hereby demand that you return our client’s titles to us for onward transmission within 7 days from the date hereof”. They threatened court action in case of any delay or failure to hand over the titles.
On suing Mukesh for failing to hand over the island titles, Katatumba told KD that he was shocked to find in court a photocopy of a mortgage deed claiming that he had sold the island to Mukesh at US $405,000. “We pressed him (Mukesh) to produce the original copy of that deed but he failed knowing that he had forged the signatures and stamps on that document”, Katatumba said. This matter is also still pending before court.
About this mortgage deed, the report of the Forensic Examiner Samuel Ezati from Police Headquarters stated “there is evidence of repeated digital processing and photocopying of the questioned document which has affected the resolution of the line quality so badly that it would not be possible to draw a conclusive opinion in this case”. He added that digital processing of the document brought about the possibility of computer manipulation, and that can only be ruled out by examining the original document. He requested the original document for effective comparison together with the stamp, but that was not produced.
Mr. Shukla Mukesh is not new to controversy, with several cases against him pending in court. One of them is a land wrangle between he and city businessman Haruna Semakula of the former General Parts (U) Limited. Semakula bought a big chunk of land just next to Mukesh’s SHUMUK premises in Kyambogo in the early 1980s but Mukesh turned and claimed ownership of that land, even though Semakula acquired it before Mukesh got his premises. “I wonder how that man manages to commit so much fraud and get away with it, but I will not let him play around with my land”, Semakula told KD. More of this story will appear in our next issue.
While decrying the rampant corruption in the lands registry, Katatumba said, “If this kind of corruption and fraud can happen to a senior citizen of this country like me, then the ordinary Ugandan is in real danger and something has to be done quickly to weed out these vices from those big offices, which are very critical for the continuity of the nation”.