Uganda’s Covid-19 ‘drug’ fiasco has taken a new twist with Mr Derrick Kirunga, the man who first blew the whistle alerting Ugandans that the alleged ‘cure’ of coronavirus being manufactured by Dei company was fake, being summoned by police at CIID headquarters in Kibuli, Kampala to respond to charges offensive communication and defamation.
Kirunga was asked to report to Kibuli to be interviewed by police detectives on May 8, 2020, in what is largely seen as intimidation by police to suppress talk about Mathias Magoola’s ‘cure’ of coronavirus.
“It is true we were investigating this case (Kirunga) on charges of offensive communication and libel. But we have also realized that there is a historical relationship (between the parties). He (Kirunga) will be going to court,” said Peter Mugabi, the detective handling Kirunga’s case at Kibuli CIID headquarters. Repeated calls to Police Spokesman Fred Enanga to shed more light on who was witch-hunting Kirunga went unanswered.
Dei Lawyer, Mr Mukama Sanyu, in a phone interview on Monday 11, 2020 said that Kirunga had lowered the reputation of Mr Magoola by calling his organization a briefcase company.
“There is a gentleman called Kirunga Derrick unknown to my client came out and said my client operates a briefcase company and that he (Magoola) is a fraudster and a conman. Mr Magoola doesn’t operate a briefcase company. As of now, authorities are looking for him. He (Kirunga) is on the run. He is a fugitive.He is supposed to appear in court,” said Mr Mukama.
However, Kirunga claims he has known Magoola for over 15 years. And they have in the past conflicted on business interests.
On Monday 16th March 2020, the Speaker of parliament Rt. Hon. Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga told parliament that a Ugandan known as Matthias Magoola, the Director of Dei Biopharma Uganda Limited together with Professor Safarz Niaz, a scientist from the University of Illinois in the United States, had invented treatment for coronavirus.
She said: “A Professor who manufactured treatment for coronavirus in the US was here last week and he has donated the patent to Uganda and within a fortnight, the treatment will be made here….. It will be made by a Company called Dei International. …..There is hope and the treatment will start here in Uganda.”
On that same day the two “inventors” met President Yoweri Museveni and Rt Hon Kadaga and were seen in a video explaining the effects of their product to the two leaders.
“It’s only this product in the world that kills the virus, including SARS,” Magoola boasted while meeting President Museveni.
And immediately after watching the video and having personally known Magoola, and being aware of his dubious activities, Kirunga recorded an audio alerting the public of a possible con artist. Kirunga’s audio went viral on social media attracting the attention of Uganda Medical Association, which issued a statement warning Government against a rush decision to approve a none-existent cure for coronavirus.
“(The talk of a cure) diverts the population from known preventive messages. We express our particular displeasure about the quack scientists who desire to misinform the leadership of our country,” a statement signed by Dr Richard Idro, the President of Medical Association, partly reads.
This statement hit Speaker Kadaga below the belt and she responded by calling members of the Medical Association “brainless doctors”.
However, Kirunga had achieved his goal when he raised the red-flag against Magoola’s machinations. But in a typical tale of the hunter becoming the hunted police now wants Kirunga “contained” though it remains unclear as to who is pressing the button.
“When I saw that video showing Magoola meeting the President and saying he had a cure for coronavirus I knew something was wrong because I know Magoola and I have been following his dirty schemes. That is why I had to warn the public,” Kirunga said in an interview.
Kirunga claims he has personally known Magoola and his company, Dei, since 2005 and was surprised to hear Rt Hon Kadaga announce that Magoola had a cure for coronavirus.
“Medicine for covid-19 has not been produced by anybody, even in the whole world. The company (Dei Group International) that was going to start producing the medicine covid-19 has not. What they have, which I have seen on the market (manufactured by Dei) is just a sanitizer which anybody able to make waragi (local brew) can make. It is just a mixture of water and what they call a 99%-alcohol as long as that alcohol does not go below 60%,” says Kirunga.
Magoola in a television show displayed a sample of a hand sanitizer which he named CovaNil and assured the viewers that the sanitizer was the game-changer at the moment as the world grapples with the novel Covid-19 pandemic.
In a phone interview the Parliament’s Assistant Director of Communication and Public Relations Affairs Helen Nanteza Kawesa confirmed to this writer that Magoola’s sanitizer was on the market although Parliament was not using it. “I know it is already on the market. But Parliament is using a different one,” she said.
When this writer called Magoola’s office his secretary calling herself Betty she promised to alert her boss about a media enquiry but by press time there was no response. And later the Dei International Company Public Relations Officer Jane Eduk called back saying, “The drug is doing very well,” and has been certified by Uganda National Bureau of Standards and National Drug Authority having hit the market a month ago.
Kirunga versus Magoola
The two archrivals have severally met and conflicted over business interests since 2004. Kirunga says he first got to know of Magoola when the latter claimed ownership of Kirunga’s family mine in Kisoro District.
Kirwa Wolfram Mines sitting on about one square mile of land and estimated to be holding over 1.5 million tones of wolfram was owned by Kirunga’s father, Sebuhingiriza Rwabiti since 1974 until Magoola appeared from nowhere armed with a license claiming he was the legal owner of the mine.
Under the trading name of Dei Minerals International, Magoola was given a licence barely 10 days after applying for it. Wolfram is used in the manufacture of engines for planes and bombs, among other uses.
Documents indicate that Rwabiti purchased the mine from a Greek, Cypriot Polis Kikkides at Shs 1.3m in 1974. However, in 2002, the licence was abruptly withdrawn by the government on the grounds that Rwabiti had defaulted on paying the annual fee.
But Rwabiti says he paid for the renewal of the licence in 2001 and had a receipt for the payment. He also revealed that since 1985 when the global price of wolfram had taken a tumble, he continued to pay for the licence.
“It was a case of greed. When the prices of the mineral began rising, Magoola and his cronies in the ministry planned not to renew the licence,” he said.
Shortly after Magoola’s firm, Dei Minerals International Ltd, received the license for the mine in 2006, about 100 armed men raided Kirwa mine confiscating and vandalizing equipment, stealing unprocessed wolfram, demolishing houses on the mine and plundering timber on the land.
Rwabiti then wrote to the President, urging him to intervene. On March 15, 2010, President Museveni wrote a letter to the Minister of Energy and the Commissioner of Mines and Geological Survey, demanding that the mine revert to Rwabiti.
“It has always been the policy of the government to encourage meaningful investment. The government cannot dispossess one individual of his property and give it to others without any lawful justification,” reads Museveni’s letter in part.
“Moreover, over the long period of operating the mine, this proprietor has heavily invested in it by way of spending on expensive mining machinery and equipment, accessories and other facilities. It cannot be fair that this property should be so callously removed from him and just handed over to others. I’m, therefore, directing you to look into this matter, rectify the situation and inform me accordingly,” wrote the President.
It is claimed that the then acting Principal Private Secretary to the President, Grace Akello, wrote to Hilary Onek, then Energy minister, to communicate that the President had changed his mind and given Dei Minerals International Ltd the green light to take over the mine. However, the President, on a campaign tour in Kisoro in 2010 said the Akello letter was forged.
On August 21, 2008, Magoola sold 60 per cent majority shareholding to the Indian firm, Videocon Natural Resources PLC.
Two years after selling the majority stake, Magoola again applied for a mining licence from the Geological department, using the trading name of Dei Minerals, after getting disagreements with Videocon.
Apparently, when Magoola fell out with Videocon, he tried to get other partners on board. He formed a joint venture with a Kampala-based Fax Group Metal Ltd.
He also partnered with Rwandan businessman Iyakalemye Anthere through a middleman in Kisoro district known as G. Nzabonimpa. According to a memorandum of understanding (MoU) drawn by Bitangaro & Co Advocates, on January 7, 2011, Magoola leased the mine to Nzabonimpa and Iyakalemye for Shs 70m.
On May 8, 2011, Magoola’s Dei Minerals International Ltd entered another joint venture with Fax Group Metal Ltd. In the deal, it was agreed that Dei Minerals would pay $30,000 for four tonnes of wolfram and $70,000 for another nine tonnes.
It is based on this background information about Magoola’s dealings that Kirunga was able to expose his nemesis and possibly stopping a potential health emergency fraud.
This article was originally published on PML.