Jinja, Uganda | URN | A 62-year-old retired ICT teacher George Ogutti and resident of Nakanyonyi-Bukwale cell in Jinja city has been arrested for allegedly masterminding the theft of car number plates across eastern Uganda.
It is alleged that Ogutti is a member of a gang involved in the theft of motor-vehicle number plates since 2021. The gang largely targets members of the Asian community in Tororo, Iganga, and Namutumba districts and Jinja city. It is reported that Ogutti was the brain behind the leaflets left behind on the vehicle windscreens after plucking off the number plates.
The leaflets instructed unsuspecting victims to pay between Shs 500,000 and Shs 5 million, depending on the brand of the vehicle. The leaflets also contained the mobile money numbers; 0771491993 and 0703932528 registered in the name of the late Hussein Kato, where the unsuspecting victims are directed to deposit money before receiving back their car number plates.
Ogutti is further accused of aiding the racket to develop a 10-year strategic plan, stretching from 2021 to 2031. The group intends to recruit other members to create tangible wealth by extorting money from their unsuspecting victims.
Police have since impounded Ogutti’s laptop, flash disk, and a desktop computer containing the details of the group’s operations, stolen car number plates, and particulars of their victims. Ogutti was arrested alongside the suspected ringleader, Simon Olowo, 27, a resident of Gwara-gwara zone, in Kisoko sub-county in Tororo district.
Olowo plays the instrumental role of recruiting both youths and other strategic individuals who are rarely suspected of involving themselves in criminal activities and are mandated with either plucking off number plates from random vehicles or identifying potential victims for their syndicated crimes.
Olowo’s arrest also led to the recovery of two-vehicle number plates UBE 518B and UBL 287G, which were hidden in a garden opposite Kiira regional fire and rescue services offices. Also, arrested during the crackdown are Alex Macho, 38, and 55-year-old Steven Mugabe, both residents of Namutumba district.
The duo is accused of using motorcycles to track down the movements of wealthy businessmen along the Mbale-Tirinyi road, where other unidentified individuals are deployed to pluck off the car number plates.
A member of the Indian community who spoke to us on condition of anonymity told this publication that, they held a meeting with the Jinja district security committee members on May 23, 2022, over the vice of increased theft of number plates, prompting the hunt down of suspects.
“These boys had penetrated members of the Indian community, with most of the suspects accessing both our homes, temple, and factory premises to pluck off number plates from vehicles parked in guarded areas,” he says.
Ogutti has since denied the allegations leveled against him, saying that the group hired him to design documents for them but he wasn’t aware of their criminal operations. Olowo, has since confessed to the crimes against him but declined to divulge into details.
Kiira regional police spokesperson, James Mubi, says that police have over the years dismantled motor vehicle number plate theft rackets in eastern Uganda. He says that they also arrested four suspects linked to this racket in May, July, and August 2021, respectively.
Mubi notes that police have been tracking down the suspects for the past 10 months, and their arrest is a major breakthrough in ending number plate thefts within the region.
Mubi says that the suspects are in custody in different gazetted detention facilities across Kiira policing area, and they will face four counts including extortion, malicious damage, obtaining money through false pretense, and threatening violence.