Britain Probes Corruption Allegations

Britain Probes Corruption Allegations

Published: December 18, 2006

Filed at 2:45 p.m. ET

LONDON (AP) — British authorities were investigating claims Monday that a member of Uganda's governing party secured a job in the British immigration service and stymied asylum applications of political opponents.

John Guma-Komwiswa, a senior caseworker with the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, has been suspended during an internal corruption inquiry and a police investigation. He denied the allegations in an interview published Monday in The Guardian newspaper.

''These accusations are totally false and malicious,'' he said. ''There is no element of truth in any of it.''

He told the newspaper he has stepped down from his post as secretary general of the National Resistance Movement in Britain, but denied there was any conflict of interest between his Ugandan political post and his job at the Home Office.

Investigators will try to determine whether he affected the outcome of asylum matters relating to fellow Ugandans during his eight years at the Immigration Enforcement Office. They will also try to establish how he escaped internal vetting procedures designed to prevent corruption.

Figures from the Home Office, which oversees police, crime and immigration, show that more than 2,800 Ugandans were declined initial refugee status during Guma-Komwiswa's tenure. It was not known how many of those cases he dealt with, the total number of applicants or whether they were political opponents.

Guma-Komwiswa told The Guardian that he did not have the power to make final judgments on asylum claims made by Ugandans, saying, ''I did deal with Ugandan (immigration) cases, but I did not know those people in person, so there was no conflict of interest whatsoever.''

The newspaper reported the complaints against Guma-Komwiswa were made by a British-based immigration attorney with links to Ugandan opposition groups.

''It is a pity that Ugandans are harassed by government both in Uganda and in foreign countries,'' said Betty Nambooze, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Party, Uganda's largest opposition party.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has ruled Uganda since his guerrilla army seized power 20 years ago. He has been praised for bringing stability, peace and even a measure of democracy to Uganda after decades of brutal dictatorship. Critics say, however, that in recent years his rule has become increasingly authoritarian.

Before the last elections, in February, constitutional term limits were dropped to allow Museveni to run. He won after a campaign in which, according to international observers and even Ugandan Supreme Court justices, the opposition was unfairly hampered.

Britain, expressing concerns about Uganda's political transition, has in recent years suspended or frozen million of dollars in aid.