Mwenda defends Sudhir as critic exposes old rot

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Andrew Mwenda

Senior journalist, Andrew Mwenda, Thursday night came to the defence of city mogul Sudhir Ruparelia and his Meera firm in a lawsuit filed by Bank of Uganda which accuses him of embezzling over Shs400bn from Crane bank which is currently under receivership.

Appearing on NBS “Frontline” programme, Mwenda accused the central bank of being incompetent, saying if they didn’t know what was happening in Crane Bank, he was wondering if they know what is happening in other banks.

“Bank of Uganda is pursuing Sudhir because he is a Ugandan. He invests his money in Uganda, he has assets here. What will happen tomorrow if these international banks fail? We shall have no recourse,” Mwenda argued.

He added: “Why should we hold Sudhir accountable when we have a body (Central Bank) established to make sure such things don’t happen.”

According to Mwenda, BoU is trying to use Sudhir’s mistakes to hide their incompetence and failures to supervise Crane Bank, adding that destroying local banks who invest within unlike foreign banks that repatriate 100% of their profits was not in the good interest of the country.

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“What will happen tomorrow if these international banks fail? We shall have no recourse?” he queried.

He suggested that Ruparelia be limited to his share capital and that his private property shouldn’t be touched.

Democratic Party president, Norbert Mao, who was appearing on the same show said all those who borrowed money from Sudhir agreed to his conditions; but forgot about his ruthlessness.

“We can’t rule out that Sudhir is a victim; we used to hear that he used to be a front for powerful people — where are they?”

Mao argued that this was not about laws but ethics because most things that are lawful are actually unethical.

Sudhir a problem?

A Ugandan social commentator writing under a pseudo name, Ssebuliba Luyirika, says Sudhir was already a problem 26 years ago.

Ssebuliba says in 1991, Crane Forex Bureau, owned by Sudhir Ruparelia, who is making headlines over his scandal in Crane Bank, was in the news over financial impropriety. Sudhir weathered the storm and carried on.

Five years later, he launched Premier Lottery where winners walked away with brand new cars and cash. “Kampala was teeming with people buying and furiously scratching lottery tickets. (I was one of them, but I only won shs2,000.)”

According to Ssebuliba, some Ugandans were sceptical about this lottery. They said it was fake. For example, a year after the lottery, it was hard to find anyone with a car that they had won.

Some alleged that the cars were taken back to Sudhir who in turn gave the winners some little money. They didn’t win the cars. It was a ruse to get many Ugandans to buy as many lottery tickets as were on sale so Sudhir could make money, Ssebuliba writes.

Sudhir’s business empire expanded. He bought land in Kampala’s prime locations and built apartments and commercial buildings in central Kampala. He built Munyonyo, Uganda’s best-known conference facility.

He bought a radio station, opened a university and Crane Bank, in which he had a controlling stake, was growing by leaps and bounds until it went bust last year. (Dfcu has since acquired all its assets.)

The commentator says if there were scandals in Sudhir’s business empire — and no doubt there were — they were hard to expose. He has been a friend of the media (small and big), and he made sure all news outlets that could give him a headache if they got wind of his scandals were on his side.

“He became a big advertiser; his bank lent journalists scads of money. They couldn’t do anything about Sudhir. And the central bank? Well, it could have blacklisted him in 1991 when it emerged that he was not doing clean business.”

He adds: “But it has been looking on. Will the central bank chief resign? He won’t. He is Ugandan. We don’t do resignations:).”

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