VIDEO: Rugemalira lives up to his name as case is dropped

Friday September 17 2021
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Mr Rugemalira and his co-accused, Mr Harbinder Singh Sethi, await their arraignment before the Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s Court in June 2017.

By Samuel Kamndaya

Dar es Salaam. Those from the Haya tribe will tell you that the name ‘Rugemalira’ means a person who is ‘self-sufficient.’

It means someone who is emotionally and intellectually independent; or one who needs no outside help in satisfying his basic needs.

Various traditions attach special importance to names. This is precisely what William Shakespeare – an English playwright, poet, and actor who is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s greatest dramatist – was referring to in his ‘Romeo and Juliet’ tragic play when he said: ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’

In that particular play passage - which is suggestive of the importance that communities attach to names - Juliet compares Romeo to a rose, saying that if he were not named Romeo, he would still be handsome and be Juliet’s love.

But, forget William Shakespeare - who lived between April 1564 and April 1616 – and think instead of Mr James Rugemalira who was yesterday ‘relieved of’ economic sabotage charges by the Kisutu Residents’ Magistrate Court after the Director of Public Prosecutions dropped the charges against him.

Senior State Attorney Grace Mwanga told the court that the prosecution no longer intended to proceed with the case under Section 91 (1) of the Criminal Procedure Act 2019.

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“We have no intention of proceeding with this case, so we ask the court to release the accused Mr Rugemalira,” submitted Ms Mwanga.

After his release, Mr Rugemalira went to the Makongo Parish of the Roman Catholic Church for prayers - and, when journalists asked for a word from him, he said he would speak on the matter another day.

“For now, I cannot speak anything. With the Covid-19 pandemic, it is risky for me to form a crowd. In any case, I have just come out of prison, so allow me to speak on another day,” he said.


Plea bargaining? No way

While spending over four years behind bars could persuade Mr Rugemalira to negotiate his way to freedom, he - like his name suggests - was steadfast. Mr Rugemalira - who is the Director of VIP Engineering and Marketing Company, and former Independent Power Tanzania Limited (IPTL) - and lawyer Joseph Makandege were facing 12 charges.

In the primary case, Mr Rugemalira and Mr Mwakandege faced charges that included money laundering and causing a loss of Sh306 billion from the Tegeta Escrow account at the central Bank of Tanzania that was jointly opened by Tanzania Electric Supply Company (Tanesco) and IPTL.

The offences were allegedly committed between October 18, 2011, and March 19, 2014, in Dar es Salaam, they were also said to have conspired to commit the crime in South Africa, Kenya and India.

Their co-accused, Mr Habinder Singh Sethi, was released in June this year under the plea bargaining arrangement after paying a fine of Sh200 million out of Sh26 billion he was ordered to pay.

The remaining amount will be paid in instalments in accordance with an agreement between him and the DPP where he is required to pay up in 12 months.

But Mr Rugemalira emerged as the odd one out as he stood by the meaning of his name and refused the allure of securing his freedom through the plea bargaining arrangements.

He is on record as having insisted that he would rather die in prison than plead guilty of a crime he never committed.

When the Kisutu Residents’ Magistrate Court was told in October 2019 that Mr Sethi had written to the DPP for a possibility of entering into a plea bargaining arrangement in seeking his release from remand prison, Mr Rugemalira did the opposite.

During that time, Mr Rugemalira wrote to a letter to the DPP, requesting to be set free so that he would enable the government recover the money swindled from the Tegeta Escrow Account.

In the letter, which was mentioned in court in October 2019, Mr Rugemalira claimed that the money swindled from the Tegeta escrow account was much more than what he and Mr Sethi were being accused of stealing.

Mr Rugemalira claimed that he was owed by a foreign bank a total of Sh37 trillion, from which the government could get Sh6 trillion in taxes.

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Mr James Rugemalira leaves the Court of Appeal in June 2019. PHOTOS | FILE

With the letter dated October 4, 2019, Mr Rugemalira had attached several documentary exhibits to support his claims - noting, however, that he had no grudges against the Republic for having remanded him for such a long time since his first arraignment.

He remained steadfast that the Republic was misled by a bank and its conspirators.

He was of the view that if the DPP were to enter a ‘nolle prosequi,’ leading to his immediate release, he would be able to effectively prosecute in the High Court and Court of Appeal the pending cases against those he termed ‘conspirators.’

When Mr Sethi and Mr Rugemalira were arraigned in June 2017, the public saw it as a bold move by the government to bring to justice suspects implicated in mega crimes.


Tegeta Escrow scandal

The Tegeta Escrow scandal was first unearthed by The Citizen, forcing the government to act.

Parliament formed a probe team to reach to the bottom of the matter.

Tabling the report in the National Assembly meeting in Dodoma in November 2014, former Kigoma-Urban Member of Parliament Zitto Kabwe - who was the PAC chairman at that time and his vice chairman Deo Filikunjombe (now the late) - said Mr Sethi, working in collaboration with high-ranking state officials, hatched a plot to swindle the billions from BoT.

With the resulting resignation of former Attorney General Frederick Werema, the-then minister for Lands, Housing and Human Settlements Development, Prof Anna Tibaijuka, and her Energy counterpart, Prof Sospeter Muhongo, the Tegete Escrow swindle became one of the mega scandals during President Jakaya Kikwete’s Administration.

IPTL was founded by two companies, namely VIP Engineering - owned by Mr Rugemalira who had 30 per cent stake in IPTL - and Mechmar of Malaysia.

But, before the withdrawal of the Tegeta Escrow funds from the central bank (BoT), PAP - under Mr Sethi - purportedly acquired 70 percent of IPTL from Mechmar.