Corruption Inquiry Into Asylum Bias

The Home Office is investigating allegations that a representative of Uganda’s ruling party secured a job in the immigration service and blocked the asylum applications of political opponents. John Guma-Komwiswa, of Bermondsey, south-east London, has been suspended from his post of senior caseworker pending an internal corruption inquiry by a specialist unit which is collaborating with police.

He denies attempting to discourage or thwart the asylum bids of political opponents.

“These accusations are totally false and malicious,” he said. “There is no element of truth in any of it.” He has stepped down from the post as UK secretary general of the National Resistance Movement, Uganda’s ruling party, but denies there was any conflict of interest between his political post and job at the Home Office.

Investigators and police will want to determine whether he affected the outcome of asylum matters relating to fellow Ugandans while working at the Immigration Enforcement Office at Becket House, central London, and, if so, how he escaped internal vetting procedures designed to prevent corruption.

In a letter to the Home Office, a lawyer dealing with Ugandan asylum cases raises concerns “from a number of Ugandan asylum seekers who have had their cases frustrated and rejected” because of what they believe is Mr Guma-Komwiswa’s “malice and or bad influence”.

The shadow home secretary, David Davis, said: “If this case is proven, it will demonstrate that the meltdown at the Home Office has actually accelerated under John Reid. The IND [Immigration and Nationality Directorate] has suffered from serial failure ranging from its method of selecting staff to carry out sensitive duties, through to the complaint audit committee describing its method of investigating complaints of corruption as ‘superficial and defensive of staff’.”

During Mr Guma-Komwiswa’s eight years at the Home Office, more than 2,800 Ugandans have been declined initial refugee status; most of those will have been recommended for deportation. It is not clear how many, if any, of those cases he influenced or enforced.

Although Uganda held multi-party elections this year, the country has been accused of persecuting, harassing and torturing political dissidents.

In a statement, the Home Office said: “We can confirm that we are currently investigating allegations made against Mr Guma [-Komwiswa], including claims that he is discouraging individuals from applying for asylum. It would not be appropriate to comment further.”

The disclosure follows a recent Home Office sex-for-asylum scandal in which another immigration official was alleged to have offered to assist an 18-year-old Zimbabwean with her asylum claim in return for sex.

It is not known whether Mr Guma-Komwiswa declared his political affiliation to his employers. He said this week that he did not have the power to make final adjudications on asylum claims lodged by fellow Ugandans, but added: “I did deal with Ugandan [immigration] cases, but I did not know those people in person, so there was no conflict of interest whatsoever. Definitely, [the investigation] will exonerate me. I can guarantee that.”

In a letter from June last year, seen by the Guardian, Mr Guma-Komwiswa refused a Ugandan asylum seeker release from detention on various grounds. The complainant said she knew Mr Guma-Komwiswa from social gatherings of the Ugandan community.