The Supreme Court, in a judgment read by Justice Esther Kisakye has quashed the conviction of Sarah Bireete on an embezzlement charge.
Bireete, a political activist, has been battling her conviction by the High Court and Court of Appeal for the last ten years.
The charges originated from her time as a National Coordinator for the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
A refund of approximately US.D 100,000 to the Ministry from the organisation’s Bujumbura Secretariat caused acrimony at the Ministry and resulted into the charges against her after a significant portion of the said refund disappeared.
In 2009, Bireete, a critic of the ruling NRM party, was charged before the Anti-Corruption court and Justice Katutsi, now retired, convicted her of abuse of office and embezzlement.
This was in spite of the prosecution evidence from the police investigators indicating that the then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry and the cashier were at fault for the loss of that refund.
The High court Judge sentenced her to ten years’ imprisonment. She appealed to the Court of Appeal.
In 2016, the Court of Appeal acquitted her on the charge of abuse of office but maintained the conviction for embezzlement.
She appealed this decision to the Supreme Court.
In a majority 4 to 1 decision, Supreme Court Justices Prof. Lilian Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza, Eldad Mwangusya, Opio-Aweri and Paul Mugamba on Friday, 8 May 2020 ruled that the prosecution case against Bireete did not satisfy the burden of proof especially given that there was no evidence directly linking her to receipt of the said refund.
They therefore unanimously acquitted her of the embezzlement charge.
The ruling will breathe new life into Bireete’s civil activism.
The previous conviction had negatively affected her reputation with politicians querying her credibility as a civil activist.
Speaking after the decision, Sarah’s Defence lawyer Jude Byamukama observed that the Supreme Court had reached a correct decision and rectified the mistakes of lower courts in failing to meticulously review the evidence against his client in view of her defence.
He only regretted that his client had suffered this ordeal for over 10 years.