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How Kampala lawyers, ex-minister scammed Shs1.2b from Qatar firm within parliament chambers

Two Ugandan law firms have been exposed for their involvement in an elaborate scam that resulted in a staggering loss of $306,950 (about Shs1.2b) for the Qatar-based Ascend Group.

The Qatar-based firm also accuses employees of Parliament, a former high-ranking official in President Museveni’s cabinet, and some security agents of their involvement in the scam.

The fraudsters, passing off as procurement officers of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), tricked the Doha-based Ascend Group into remitting the funds as a precondition for the award of a $120 million (about Shs464.4 billion) contract that never was.

The law firms played a crucial role in orchestrating the fraudulent scheme, including fabricating the multi-million dollar procurement contract for technical schools for the NRM government and manipulating Ascend Group into remitting substantial funds.

The purported contract was for the construction of five technical schools in Busunju, Garuga, Wakiso, Pader and Nampungwe. The fraudsters claimed this was part of a “presidential initiative projects’ directive to improve on the education standards of the citizens.”

The intricate deception began with false representations by individuals like Mike Mutebi and Alex Ampurira, who claimed to be associated with NRM committees.

The fabricated chairman, David Mugabe, and a self-styled communications director guided Ascend Group through the fraudulent process, emphasizing the need for local registration in Uganda as a prerequisite for the non-existent contract.

Today, we unmask the lawyers and law firms at the centre of this fraud: Kato Absolom of KAAB Advocates and Arthur Mwebesa of Mwebesa and Company Advocates, both based in Kampala.

The two legal practitioners played pivotal roles in the elaborate scheme, leading to their subsequent arrests at different intervals.

Counsel Kato spent a week in custody, while Arthur Mwebesa endured 4 days at Jinja Road Police Station before they were granted bail pending investigations.

When contacted to explain his involvement in the scam, Counsel Mwebesa, an experienced lawyer, immediately denied receiving Shs 1.2 billion in his bank account, even though this website had not mentioned the money.


In a fraudulent scheme involving two law firms, Parliament employees, a former high-ranking official, and security agents, the proprietors of a Qatar-based firm, Ascend Group, found themselves in distress after losing $306,950 to Ugandan fraudsters.

The scammers posed as procurement officers from the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and convinced Ascend Group to remit funds as a precondition for a non-existent $120 million contract for constructing technical schools in various locations.

Monitor last week reported that some of the meetings between the fraudsters and investors and the subsequent signing of a fake contract agreement were conducted within the precincts of Parliament. The matter is the subject of an investigation by organs of the State House.

The Head of State House’s Legal desk, Mr Florah Kiconco has since revealed that the matter is being dealt with by State House’s Anti-Corruption team.

“I got the instructions from the Principal Private Secretary (PPS) to the President, Dr [Kenneth] Omona. I eventually wrote to the Head of the Anti-Corruption Unit of State House to investigate that matter because we have neither the personnel nor the capacity to investigate cases of that nature,” Ms Kiconco told Monitor.

Qataris conned

A copy of a statement that Mr Souhel Imtiaz Khan, the CEO of Ascend Group, filed with the police showed that the firm was first contacted on June 6, 2022, by one Mike Mutebi. Mr Mutebi sent out an email from the address [email protected], claiming to be the manager of a sourcing company based in Kampala.

In the email, Mr Mutebi inquired whether the firm would be interested in venturing into an undertaking of “significance” that stood out “as one of the top priorities of the president.”

On June 15, 2022, the same Mutebi sent another email in which he introduced Alex Ampurira as the communications director of the NRM Procurement Committee.

A week later, the Qatari-based company received information about the presidential directive and design outlines for the project via an email sent to [email protected]. The communication purported to be from the company’s director of communications.

Based on the details that had been provided, the Qatari-based company submitted a proposal on July 27, 2022.

Enter a new actor

A new actor, Mr David Mugabe, claiming to be the chairman of the NRM Procurement and Disposal Unit and Head of the Presidential Projects Committee, entered the fray. He together with the self-styled communications director informed the Qatari-based firm that their proposal had garnered verbal approval, but that it had to first be registered in Uganda as a precondition for the contract award.

“It has been emphasised that the contract cannot be granted until the registration of a local company is concluded,” Mr Mugabe told Mr Khan.

Mr Mugabe and Mr Mutebi then introduced and recommended a Kampala law firm to facilitate the process. On August 2, 2022, a representative from the said law firm sent to the Qatari-based firm an email delineating the procedures for registering a company at the Uganda Registration Services Bureau along with the associated and attendant costs.

On August 10, 2022, the Qatari-based firm remitted funds to the law firm. The registration of Ms Sohail Construction Limited was finalised on August 17, 2022. An approved copy of the firm’s proposal was sent through to Qatar on the same day.

Trip to Uganda

Following the company’s registration, Mr Khan was invited to visit Uganda to meet government officials and sign the contract documents. Mr Khan arrived in Uganda on August 16, 2022. He was picked up from the airport by Mr Mugabe, who drove him to the Golden Tulip Hotel in Kampala.

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He was later driven to Parliament for discussions regarding the contract, payment details and the commencement of the project.

Mr Khan was informed that same day that a meeting had been scheduled with a former high-ranking member of Mr Museveni’s cabinet to discuss the project. The name and identity of the pinned ex-minister has been withheld as the individual currently works at the presidential advisory level.

Meeting with bigwigs

On August 17, 2022, Khan was driven to the Sheraton Hotel in Kampala for a meeting with the former cabinet minister whose identity has also been withheld for investigative purposes.

“The purpose of our meeting at the Sheraton Hotel was to discuss the construction of the school project, a presidential project. He (former cabinet Minister) expressed his keen interest in progressing with the contract and the associated work during our discussions. His commitment instilled confidence and trust in me to proceed further with the contract,” Mr Khan said.

Among those who were said to have attended the meeting at the Sheraton Hotel were the so-called NRM procurement committee officials and others who claimed to be from the law firm that had been sourced to help have the firm locally registered in Uganda.

That very day, the so-called NRM procurement committee officials presented Mr Khan with a draft contract agreement for review. The fake agreement was signed the following day in an office in Parliament.

“The final negotiations transpired at the chairman of the Special Contracts Committee’s office, located within the Parliament Building. By the contract terms, it was mutually agreed upon that a cash performance security amount of $240,000 would be established. This performance security amount was to be deposited into the designated account of the appointed lawyer,” Mr Khan lamented to local publication Monitor in a distress interview.

The payments

According to information obtained by Saturday Monitor, the Qatari-based firm dispatched $287,000 (about Shs1.1 billion) as cash performance security deposits. The money was remitted to the lawyer’s bank account in Exim Bank, Kampala, in six different branches.

The first tranche of $47,000 (about Shs181.9 million) was remitted on August 10, 2022 and the second of $100,000 (about Shs387 million) was remitted on September 14, 2022. The third tranche of $40,000 (about Shs154.8 million) was remitted on November 27, 2022 and the fourth of $30,000 (about Shs116.1 million) was dispatched on November 30, 2022.

The fifth tranche of $30,000 Shs116.1m was remitted on January 8, 2023, the sixth and final tranche of $40,000 $40,000 (about Shs154.8 million) sent through on April 10, 2023.

Mr Dombo, however, questioned why Ascend Group’s top brass had chosen to remit money meant for an NRM-related project into the bank accounts of a law firm and not that of the NRM.

“Such money would definitely be paid to the bank accounts of the NRM even if the procurement was credible, but right from the word go you would just know that one is a fraud because the NRM party is not responsible for the construction of the schools. Apart from making the manifesto, which is implemented by the government,” Mr Dombo opined.

More cash demands

Ascend Group was then asked to remit funds to facilitate the processing of certificates of good conduct and anti-money laundering. On May 25, 2023, the firm remitted $19,950 (about Shs75.4 million) to the account of another Kampala law firm in dfcu Bank.

Subsequently, the legal representative of the same legal firm asked for an additional $2,000 (about Shs7.7 million) to allegedly facilitate expeditious processing of the certificates by offering inducements to tax collectors.

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“After several weeks of delay in receiving the documents the chairman and the lawyer has suggested an estimated additional total amount of $30,000 (about Shs116.1 million is required for the entire certification process, without which the foreign payments cannot be made,” Mr Souhel Imtiaz Khan, the CEO of Ascend Group, told the publication.

When more money was not forthcoming, the so-called NRM officials ceased communicating with the Qataris.

Efforts by this publication to reach the actors on the mobile phone numbers on which they used to communicate with the Qataris was not possible as all of them were off. Two of the numbers were said to be not listed on the MTN network, while three others were off for more than a week.

The decision by the fraudsters to go mute prompted the Qatari-based firm to reach out to Uganda’s mission in Qatar who in turn directed them to the Office of the President.

State House response.

Ms Natasha Mariam Oduka, the spokesperson of State House’s Anti-Corruption Unit, confirmed on Thursday that the team is investigating the matter, but declined to provide details on the progress.

“I cannot give you any updates because our teams are still in the field,” Ms Oduka said.

What Parliament says

Mr Chris Obore, the director for Communication and Public Affairs in Parliament, conceded that fraudsters have been cashing in on some of the policies of Parliament to defraud the public.

“We have a policy of opening Parliament to the people, so fraudsters are using that to con unsuspecting members of the public. When MPs come to Parliament, they can even come with people who loiter around. So many people masquerade to be either employees or even MPs and they dupe people in the name of Parliament,” Mr Obore said.

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