The US government has imposed financial sanctions and visa restrictions on two Ugandan judges and two lawyers over their part in an international adoption scam involving more than 30 children.
The judges in the eye of the storm are retired judge Moses Mukiibi, and Wilson Musalu Musene of the high court, while lawyer Dorah Mirembe of Ssebaggala and Mirembe Advocates and her husband Patrick Ecobu, have been charged in the United States for facilitating a network that organised fraudulent adoptions of Ugandan children, according to the US State Department.
“Together, these individuals engaged in corruption to arrange the adoption of Ugandan children by unwitting parents in the United States,” the statement said.
The indictments that were delivered by the Southern District of Ohio, have been welcomed by some Ugandan lawyers.
Isaac Ssemakadde, a lawyer but renowned critic of the Uganda judiciary however noted that the sanctions are a tip of the iceberg of endemic corruption in the judiciary.
“US sanctions against @JudiciaryUG honchos are welcome because there will always be illegal conduct that is not zealously pursued by the junta for a host of reasons, including endemic corruption within @JLOSUganda, those elitist, uncommunicative & inaccessible #RottenTomatoes,” said Ssemakadde.
The adoptions were processed through European Adoption Consultants (EAC), a now defunct Ohio-based adoption agency. Along with Mirembe, two American employees of the company, Margaret Cole and Debra Parris, were charged on Friday with arranging adoptions through bribery and fraud in Uganda and Poland.
According to the indictment, between 2013 and 2016 the EAC procured the adoption of more than 30 Ugandan children for US clients, in collaboration with Mirembe. The adoption agency received more than $900,000 (£680,000) from these clients, and Mirembe more than $430,000, as well as tens of thousands of dollars directly from EAC’s clients for representing them in Uganda.
In August 2019, another employee of EAC, Robin Longoria, pleaded guilty to bribing Ugandan officials and defrauding US adoptive parents and the US Department of State.
A US State Department statement said Mirembe had promised vulnerable Ugandan families their children would go to schools in Kampala, but instead they were taken to an unlicensed children’s home for adoption by American families. Mirembe and Ecobu then facilitated bribes to Ugandan judges and other government officials, including judges Mukiibi and Musene.
Solomon Muyita, a spokesperson for the Ugandan judiciary, told the Guardian that “this is a matter that the judiciary administration has been engaged with for quite some time, even before the said sanctions. The judiciary shall continue to engage with all the parties and institutions concerned until the matter is brought to a logical conclusion.”
Adoptions of Ugandan children to the US were at their highest in 2013, when 276 were recorded. But in 2016, “legal guardianships” – which were used to speed up the adoption process – were banned, and the Ugandan government began closing unlicensed orphanages.