Colonel Olanya handed six month jail term

Colonel Benson Olanya looks in court during his sentencing. Photo by Peter Busomoke

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LT. Col. Benson Olanya, the ex-commander of the Uganda Peoples’ Defense Forces (UPDF) 343 battalion under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), has been sentenced to six months in jail after he was found guilty of diverting fuel meant for peace keeping operations.

Olanya will serve his sentence at the Military Police headquarters in Makindye, a Kampala suburb.

Delivering the ruling on Tuesday, the court chairman, Maj. Gen. Levy Karuhanga, said the court’s decision is reflective of the pleas of the defense and prosecution made after Olanya was convicted on Monday.

The court, he explained, took into consideration the fact that Olanya is a first-time offender without a known previous criminal record and his HIV positive status.

He said the court also took into account pleas from the state to hand down a deterrent sentence because such crimes are rampant among UPDF officers and that the convict’s actions were injurious to the image of the Ugandan army at the international stage.

“You are hereby sentenced to six months in detention. It is your constitutional right to appeal against the decision of this court in 14 days if you are not satisfied,” Karuhanga ruled.

Olanya was found guilty of diverting 720 liters of diesel fuel in Somalia where Uganda has peace keepers under the auspices of the African Union in June and July 2013.

The fuel was collected from the military units under his battalion on two occasions by two Somali nationals on his instructions. His battalion was under battle group 11+ whose commander, Col. Hassan Kimbowa, is facing similar charges.

Olanya said he shared his “own fuel” (meant for the commander) with a man who lent UPDF a power generator when theirs broke down. He said he shared part of the fuel with interpreters, local leaders and informers who snooped on Al Shabaab in areas formally under the control of the terrorists before UPDF overran them.

His lawyer, Maj. Ronald Iduli, asked court to give him a lenient sentence because he didn’t benefit from the fuel he shared with informers, local leaders and interpreters. He said the convict was only discharging his mandate.

Karuhanga explained that courts do not hand down long prison terms to first-time offenders unless under exceptional circumstances.

He also explained that court do not give custodial sentences to convicts grappling with terminal illnesses, but added that military police has facilities capable of handling Olanya’s health condition.

He still faces other charges of abuse of office, violence to juniors and failure to execute his duties.

Last week, the same court sentenced Maj. Alex Kirabo, the former Ugandan military transport officer in Somalia to six months in jail for failing to verify the United Nations Support Office for African Union Mission on Somalia (UNISOA) forms used to account for fuel in 2013.

The officers will resume their duties in the military after serving the sentences. However, they have indicated that they will appeal against the sentences.

According to the UPDF Act, a sentence of two years and beyond includes dismissal from the force with disgrace. Soldiers dismissed from the forces are not entitled to retirement benefits.

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