• Sun. Jun 26th, 2022

Uganda | Kampala | Real Muloodi News | As Businessman Patrick Bitature and South Africa based fund manager Vantage Capital continue to battle it out over a US$32-million property loan, Hon. Justice Stephen Mubiru of the Commercial Division of Uganda’s High Court has dismissed an earlier application to prevent the advertisement and auctioning of the tycoon’s four prime properties.

The application, lodged under Bitature’s companies, Simba Properties Investment Co. Ltd. and Simba Telecom Ltd., was filed against the lawyers for Vantage, Robert Kirunda and Noah Shamah Wasige. The lawyers had ran an advert calling for prospective buyers of the prime properties. Court Bailiff Festus Kateregga was also named in Bitature’s application to the high court.

In a court ruling issued on Wednesday June 15, Justice Mubiru stated that Bitature’s application was misconceived because it was filed against the wrong parties. According to Mubiru, instead of suing the parties cited in their individual capacities, Simba Properties should have named Vantage because the individuals were merely agents of the principal, which is Vantage.

“On the basis of all the foregoing considerations, I found that this application and the underlying suit were entirely misconceived because they were instituted against agents of a known principal, and because the matters put in issue in the suit are already the subject of an ongoing arbitral process,” Justice Mubiru ruled.

“In the result, I found that a prima facie case had not been established,” he explained. “There were no serious questions of law and fact to be tried by this court to justify the grant of a temporary injunction. The application was thus dismissed with costs to the respondents and the underlying suit was struck out with costs to the defendants,” Mubiru concluded.

Mubiru’s ruling implies that Vantage can proceed with the auction of Bitature’s Kampala real estate empire, as part of its efforts to recover its outstanding loan against the businessman.

However, dissatisfied with Hon. Justice Stephen Mubiru’s ruling, Bitature’s lawyers swiftly appealed to the Court of Appeal. Therefore, Bitature’s properties will not be sold until the Court of Appeal delivers its ruling on the matter.

Bitature’s lead lawyer, Fred Muwema, condemned Justice Mubiru and his verdict, labeling it, a “plainly erroneous ruling”. Muwema contends that Justice Mubiru’s review of the underlying suit was unjustified, as there was absolutely no request for Mubiru to review Ssekaana’s ruling anywhere on the court record.

Muwema equated what the judge did to constituting himself into an appeal court which powers he isn’t vested with. Muwema went as far as accusing Justice Mubiru of bias for meandering from entertaining an application for grant of an injunction, to reviewing Ssekaana’s verdict.

“If he isn’t biased, why did he go as far as reviewing Ssekaana’s ruling, yet what was before him was an application for grant of an injunction? asked Muwema.

It is little wonder that Muwema has responded with such contempt for Justice Mubiru and his rulings. Only 3 weeks earlier, on May 24th, Hon. Justice Mubiru slapped Costs onto Fred Muwema personally after a finding that he caused unnecessary litigation and abused court process.

Justice Mubiru dismissed an application filed in the High court by Muwema & Co. Advocates (Bitature’s lawyers) seeking orders to stop Vantage and six others, including its lawyers, from proceeding with a case of fraud they had filed in the Buganda Road Chief Magistrate’s court.

Vantage had accused Bitature and his wife Carol of fraudulently changing the shareholding of their companies Simba Properties Investment Co. Ltd, Simba Telecom Limited, Linda Properties Limited, and Elgon Terrace Hotel Limited, contrary to a loan agreement they had signed in 2014 that saw their companies receive $10million whose collateral was the company shares.

In his scathing ruling on May 24th, Justice Mubiru held, “It is an advocate’s professional responsibility to ensure that all suits and applications filed possess a proper legal basis, yet this application is entirely misconceived and devoid of legal foundation.  This application catastrophically lacks a legal basis. The legal costs and time wasted in this litigation could have been avoided entirely if the applicants’ advocates had discharged their duties to the expected minimum standards of professional competence. It qualifies as a “rare and exceptional” case where it would not be fair for the applicants to bear the costs. The costs must be met by the applicants’ advocates in person.”

Wider Financial Implications

Mubiru’s most recent court ruling issued on Wednesday marks a turning point in the dispute between Bitature and Vantage, and comes nearly a week after Uganda’s central bank launched an investigation to determine whether the situation poses any risks to the country’s financial services industry, as part of a concerted effort to avoid potential disruptions resulting from the $10-million loan awarded to the businessman in 2014.

Since 2014, the $10-million loan has tripled in value to around $32 million after interest, charges, and penalties, as Vantage continues to demand repayment from Bitature for an overdue debt that is now considered to have gone bad.

Bitature’s Kampala real estate empire includes the 30-unit Elizabeth Royal Apartments in Kololo, the Skyz Hotel in Naguru, and the Moyo Close Apartments in Kololo, a residential and commercial neighborhood in Kampala.

Read Hon. Justice Stephen Mubiru’s full court judgement in it’s entirety:  APPLICATION No. 0671 OF 2022, Arising from Civil Suit No. 0424 of 2022, Before: Hon Justice Stephen Mubiru.

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