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Ugandan athlete faces fraud charge over Olympics

Judges gavel and law books stacked behind

Judges gavel and law books stacked behind

Published Jul 28, 2021


TOKYO – A young Ugandan weightlifter who disappeared in Japan after failing to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics was charged Wednesday with conspiracy to defraud, his lawyer said.

Julius Ssekitoleko vanished from an Olympic training camp after learning he did not meet standards to compete in the Games, making headlines around the world as Japanese officials scrambled to locate him.

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The 20-year-old was found several days later and flown home to Uganda where government officials said he would undergo counselling.

But he was swiftly taken into police custody, and on Wednesday he was charged with "conspiracy to defraud" before being released on a police bond, his lawyer Anthony Wameli told AFP.

"He is happy that he has been freed after spending five days in detention which is an infringement on his rights," he added.

A spokesman for Uganda's criminal investigations department, said Ssekitoleko may have conspired with a government official to be included on the team for Japan "well aware that he did not meet the qualifications".

"Investigations will confirm the depth of the conspiracy to defraud the government as he had been paid allowances at the time of his disappearance," the spokesman, Charles Twine, told AFP.

'Sympathy not harsh treatment'

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Ssekitoleko's family had issued appeals for his release, saying his rights were being violated.

"This is an innocent young man. He didn't want to hurt anyone. Why is he being treated like a criminal?" asked his mother Juliet Nalwadda, speaking to AFP earlier Wednesday.

Uganda's weightlifting federation said Ssekitoleko came from a poor family and had been training hard for his first Olympics.

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After he went missing, a note was found in Ssekitoleko's hotel room in which he said he wanted to work in Japan and asked that his belongings be sent to his family in Uganda.

The Union of Uganda Sports Federations and Associations had also condemned Ssekitoleko's detention.

"He deserves sympathy, not harsh treatment" the head of the union, Moses Muhangi, told AFP.

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Ssekitoleko's plight has stirred mixed reactions in Uganda. The government was forced to apologise to Japan over the incident that Uganda's state minister for foreign affairs labelled "unacceptable conduct and treachery".

But others have been more sympathetic toward the young athlete whose dreams were dashed.

"Ssekitoleko is not a criminal, he is a victim of an economy that works for the few (in the) privileged class," Ugandan legislator Betty Nambooze said Wednesday.

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Tokyo 2020