Regular readers will remember that earlier this year the Tanzanian government extorted USD2.3mn from Vodacom by imprisoning its executives on trumped-up charges of bypass fraud. Confronted by laws that meant those executives could be held indefinitely without trial, Vodacom rationalized that it was better to plead guilty, pay the money, and get their people out of prison within a few weeks, instead of fighting a futile battle for years. They only had to look at a disturbingly similar bypass case where Six Telecoms Limited and its executives were subject to delay after delay by a judicial system that kept saying it needed more time to gather evidence. Now the Six Telecoms bypass case will finally come to an end, almost two years after the defendants were charged, because they have begged forgiveness and agreed to pay every penny that was demanded from them. This comes during a brief ‘amnesty’ for economic crimes that promises the immediate release of any defendants who confess and pay up.
BBC News reports (in Swahili) that all the defendants in the Six Telecoms bypass case have written to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) of Tanzania, Biswalo Mganga, saying they were sorry and offering to pay the money they were accused of stealing. As with the Vodacom bypass case, the defendants are accused of economic crimes and hence can be held indefinitely without trial. The Six Telecoms defendants were first arrested and jailed in November 2017. They include the company CEO, the CFO, and the well-known Tanzanian lawyer and human rights activist Dr Ringo Tenga, who is a Director of the company. In total they will pay USD3,748,751 through a series of installments over the next six months.
The Tanzanian amnesty for economic crimes appears to have been a spectacular success, in the sense that it will raise a lot of money for a government that is desperately short of cash. It is less clear if this is a victory for justice. Hundreds of accused inmates have collectively agreed to pay over USD40mn in exchange for their release. Reuters reported that President John Magufuli (pictured) thought an amnesty would be a good way to raise money but that he would never want to influence Tanzania’s justice system.
Tanzania’s president said on Sunday people held on charges of tax evasion, money laundering and other financial crimes should be freed if they confess and return the cash… “This is just my recommendation …I don’t want to be seen to be interfering in the judiciary process,” he added.
Magufuli is also seemingly aware of how long defendants can be denied justice.
“There are some suspects being held in detention for three years now. I feel sorry for them,” Magufuli said during a ceremony swearing in new government officials at State House in Dar es Salaam.
In completely unrelated news:
- President Magufuli says contraceptives are promoted by sinister foreigners and that Tanzanian women who use birth control are lazy;
- Magufuli’s political allies use social media to identify and arrest anyone suspected of being gay;
- The World Bank recently ended its embargo on aid to Tanzania because Magufuli’s government finally agreed they would not imprison people for questioning government statistics, and that the official figures for economic growth may need some revision after the World Bank produced much lower numbers;
- Magufuli’s government harassed a journalist that is critical of his regime and then later accused him of economic crimes… which means he can be held indefinitely without trial; and
- Tanzanians who might want to use the internet to criticize their government must first register their name and address and pay over USD900 in annual fees.
I share these facts just to emphasize why I have little patience for people who read what is written by government propagandists and then conclude it tells them everything they need to know. None of us know the full story about what is happening with telecoms fraud in Tanzania. This is because the Tanzanian government is quick to make accusations but never finds the time to present any evidence in open court.