Sam Kutesa when he was President of U.N. General Assembly. Photo: UN.org
The United Nations has distanced itself from Uganda foreign affairs minister Sam Kutesa’s claim that he was fulfilling his role as President of the General Assembly when he solicited and received a $500,000 bribe as alleged by U.S. prosecutors.
On Monday the U.S. Justice Department unsealed an indictment alleging that a Hong Kong frontman for a multi-billion dollar Chinese oil company seeking non-competitive concessions in the oil and finance industry in Africa offered a $2 million bribe to Idriss Deby, the president of Chad, and paid $500,000 to Sam Kutesa, Uganda’s foreign minister.
On Tuesday, the Permanent Secretary of Uganda’s Foreign Ministry, Patrick S. Mugoya issued a long meandering statement with little bearing to the U.S. bribe allegations.
“In the course of his work as President of the General Assembly (PGA) of the United Nations during its 69th Session in 2014 – 2015, Hon. Sam Kutesa interacted and engaged with numerous organizations including, civil society, media and private sector. This engagement, a role undertaken by all the Presidents of the General Assembly, is necessary for promoting the core objectives of the UN in the areas of development, peace and security as well as human rights,” the statement by Mugoya, posted on Facebook, read, in part. “It is therefore erroneous to insinuate or infer that Hon. Sam Kutesa, from references made to him and CEFC in the said media stories, is linked to the bribery allegations,” the Mugoya statement also declared.
“Regarding the U.S. Justice Department allegations against Mr. Kutesa, we believe it is appropriate for the Government of Uganda to respond. During his time as President of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa remained his country’s foreign minister and was not a staff member of the United Nations,” Farhan Haq, a spokesperson for United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, said in an e-mail message, reacting to the statement by Mugoya. “For our part, we expect all those who hold the office of the President of the General Assembly to uphold the highest standards of transparency and ethics.”
Separately, Brenden Varma, spokesperson for Miroslav Lajčák, the current President of the United Nations General Assembly said his office has “not been contacted in connection with any investigation into any former General Assembly President.” Varma added: “For his part, President Lajčák holds himself and his office to the highest levels of transparency and ethics. Financial details pertaining to the use of his Office’s Trust Fund are regularly posted on the Office’s web site, and the President is preparing to become the first United Nations General Assembly President in history to make his personal financial disclosure summary public.”
During his term between 2014 and 2015 as President of the General Assembly, Kutesa traveled to China in August, 2015, and during the trip solicited $500,000 for what U.S. prosecutors claim was a non-existent foundation and $500,000 for the re-election campaign of Uganda’s dictator Gen. Yoweri Museveni. The Justice Department alleged: “In fact, this payment was a bribe to obtain business advantages for the Energy Company in its efforts to secure contracts and ventures in Uganda’s financial and energy sectors. HO also provided the Ugandan Foreign Minister, as well as the President of Uganda, with promises of future benefits, including proposing to partner with both officials’ family businesses in potential joint ventures. In exchange, the Ugandan Foreign Minister assisted the Energy Company in obtaining business in Uganda, including by facilitating the Energy Company’s interest in potentially acquiring a bank.”
The $500,000 bribe was wired on May 6, 2016, after Kutesa’s term expired and he’d returned to Uganda and resumed his post as foreign minister. Kutesa and his wife Edith disguised the bribe payment as a donation to their family foundation called the Ugandan Foundation, prosecutors allege. When an FBI agent went to the street address provided as headquarters on a foundation letterhead, in Kampala, the Ugandan, he discovered that no such charity existed at the location, prosecutors allege.
The alleged bribe money was wired to Kutesa by Chinese businessman Chi Ping Patrick Ho, on behalf of CEFC China Energy Co., according to U.S. prosecutors. Working with Cheihk Tidiane Gadio, Senegal’s former foreign minister who acted as a go-between, Ho also offered $2 million for President Deby. Gadio was paid $400,000 the U.S. alleges.
Gadio was arrested last week Friday and Ho last Saturday. Both were charged with violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in connection with the alleged bribe payments, international money laundering, and conspiracy to commit both.
With respect to Uganda, the scheme was hatched in New York in 2014 soon after Kutesa assumed his role as President of the United Nations General Assembly, U.S. prosecutors allege.
Several Ugandan members of Parliament have called for the resignation of Kutesa who has been involved in numerous alleged corruption scandals dating to the 1990s.
At the time he became President of the General Assembly, The Black Star News reported that his private company in Uganda, ENHAS, had earned about $30 million from a U.N. contract. He had never disclosed to the U.N. that he owned the company when ENHAS was awarded the contract.
The United Kingdom once considered revoking Kutesa’s visa privileges because of his alleged role in the embezzlement of $27 million when Uganda hosted the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm), according to a 2010 memo by former U.S. ambassador to Uganda, Jerry Lanier, published on Wikileaks.
The State Department declined to comment on Kutesa’s visa status when contacted by The Black Star News; he reportedly met with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington during a conference for African ministers of foreign affairs Nov. 16-17. The Department of Justice said the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security would determine Kutesa’s visa status. Homeland Security did not respond to a written inquiry.
There was global opposition to Kutesa’s candidacy before he became PGA in 2014, with 15,752 people signing a change.org petition urging then Secretary of State John Kerry to revoke his visa.
Kutesa is one of Uganda’s most powerful officials. His daughter Charlotte is married to Gen. Museveni’s son, Gen. Muhozi Kaenerugaba, who until recently was commander of the Special Forces Brigade and Presidential Guard.