Wegnew Dessie is a middle-aged man of Ethiopian origin, who lives in South Africa.
He greets you with a smile and does not seem bothered by life.


He speaks softly. But this is before he tells his story.

He studied medicine, but did not practice it, choosing a career in business because he wanted to be rich.

And he made money over the years, managing to acquire property worth millions of dollars.

But he now says he is depressed.

He spends a lot of time in Uganda seeking justice, spending yet more out of his decimated fortune.

In a court case currently before Buganda Road Road Magistrate’s Court, South Sudanese socialite Lawrence Malong Lual Yor, who is renowned for living an ostentatious life and splashing dollars, is charged with two others, and others at large, with conning Dessie out of $1.9 million (about Sh192 million) in a fake gold deal.

When he first came to Uganda in March 2017, Dessie felt he was on the verge of making even more money.

He has a friend called Abebe, who also lives in South Africa.

In his search for opportunities, Abebe went to Juba when South Sudan had just gained independence.

In Juba, Dessie says, Abebe met Malong, an ambitious young man who was also looking for a way to conquer the world.

Malong introduced himself to Abebe as a son of General Paul Malong, then a top officer in the armed forces of South Sudan.

This was not true.


In their conversations, Dessie says, Malong told Abebe that because he was ‘General Malong’s son’, he did not require prior appointment to access any official in Juba and in some places in the region.

Abebe was convinced that Malong was the right friend to have. The first experiment ended in failure.

Dessie says Malong introduced Abebe to a man he called his friend, who he also said was a minister in the government of South Sudan.

To ‘facilitate’ things, Dessie says, the man Malong introduced to Abebe asked for $100,000 (about Sh10 million), which Abebe paid.

But things did not move as fast as Abebe had hoped, choosing to return to South Africa where he already had a foothold.

Dessie says Malong stayed over in South Africa for three years – up to 2015 – with all his bills catered for by his host. It was during that time that Dessie got to meet Malong.

When Malong left South Africa, he operated in Uganda and Kenya, and in November 2016, Dessie says, Malong informed Abebe that there was a gold deal in Uganda out of which they could make a killing.

On November 26, 2016, Abebe travelled to Uganda to find out details.

Dessie says Malong took Abebe to Speke Resort Munyonyo and introduced him to his team.

According to Malong’s story as told to Abebe, Dessie says, there was a rebel leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo, an army general, who owned tonnes of gold.

150 BARS

This rebel leader would not be available to meet with gold buyers, Dessie says Malong told Abebe, but that he had delegated his brother, Mike Okitalunyi Lota, to act on his behalf.

Lota was in the meeting that Malong arranged at Munyonyo, Dessie says.

In the same meeting, Malong introduced Thaddeus Gavana Zikusooka, who was supposed to be a clearing agent for gold deals.

They showed him 150 bars, some 150kgs of what was supposed to be gold.

To make him believe the story, Dessie said, Malong and his group melted a piece of genuine gold in Abebe’s presence.

After Abebe felt that he had confirmed the existence of the gold, Dessie says Malong and group told him that if he finished the 150kgs, they would avail more gold for him to buy, up to two tonnes.

Now that Abebe had confirmed what he saw as a lucrative gold deal, it was time to find money to transact because he did not have enough.


He called his longtime friend Dessie.

Dessie says his first reaction was to refuse to get involved, saying since he did not have a licence to trade in gold, he would not participate in the illegal business.

Abebe told Malong as much, and Malong had a solution. Malong, Dessie says, told them it did not matter that the others had no licence since he had a mining licence for gold and diamond.

Debbie says Malong told them the licence was not an issue and all they needed to do was to buy the gold, pay the taxes due to the Ugandan government, and fly it out of the country.

Dessie was then sold into the deal, and he and Abebe flew to Uganda in March 2017, to do business.

But Dessie was trying to proceed with caution.

He says he told them he wanted to start with buying one kilogramme and that if the deal worked out, he would return for bigger business.

After Malong and group failed to convince him to buy more, Dessie says, they settled for the one kilogramme he wanted at the start.


He was to pay $23,000 (about Sh2.3 million), 5 per cent tax and one per cent for insurance. He says he paid $30,000 (about Sh3 million) in total for the first kilogramme of gold, which he planned to sell in Dubai.

Dessie says they then asked the sellers to avail them the documentation and the gold they had paid for so that they would travel to Dubai, United Arab Emirates to do business.

A complication set in at that stage – Malong’s licence had expired.

Dessie says Malong asked them for $10,000 (about Sh1 million) to renew it.

They considered the request and decided that instead of losing the $30,000 (Sh 3 million) they had already paid for the gold, they were better off paying the $10,000 (about Sh1 million) to renew the licence.

After they gave him the money, Malong presented to them what was supposed to be a renewed licence.

“We now know it was fake,” Dessie says.

At this stage, Gavana, who was supposed to be a clearing agent for gold deals, educates Abebe and Dessie that in gold trade, the agent travels with the precious metal to the airport and sees them through all the processes.

So, on the appointed day of their flight, Dessie and Abebe travelled to Entebbe airport and waited for Gavana.


While they waited, Dessie says, Malong and his group called to tell them that there was another complication, that according to Ugandan law, the buyers would not be allowed to travel with just one kilogramme of gold since the gold had entered the country from DRC as 600kgs.

When they showed them what was supposed to be gold for the second time in Muyenga, Dessie says Malong and group had told them that in the same house where they had seen the 150kgs, there were also 450kgs that was available for sale.

At that time, Dessie says Malong and group told them the minimum amount of gold that they would be allowed to take out of Uganda was 10kgs.

Because they were already deep into the deal, Dessie and Abebe raised more money and paid for another nine kilogrammes, spending $150,000 (about Sh15 million) to buy it and $50,000 (about Sh5 million) to pay taxes, all of which Dessie says was handed to Malong and group.

When the appointed day to fly to Dubai came, Dessie and Abebe again received the same explanation.

Malong and his group told them that Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) would not allow them to take only 10kgs of gold out of the country yet the gold entered the country from DRC when it was 600kgs.


At this point, Dessie says, they lost their heads and demanded to be refunded their money and abort the deal.

Refunding the money, however, was not an option since Malong and group said it had already been spent.

Dessie says Malong explained to them that the owner of the gold, who was also supposedly running a rebel group in DRC, had soldiers to feed and other bills to pay.

At every stage when their faith got shaken, Dessie says, Malong would remind them that his father was Gen Malong, a top soldier in South Sudan, and that the seller of the gold is another General in DRC.

No one anywhere in the world would like to mess up with the two Generals, Dessie says Malong assured them.

To avoid the complication of being blocked at the airport because of small quantities, Dessie says then Malong came up with the idea that they instead buy 150kgs of gold.

Dessie says they told Malong that they did not have the amount of money required to buy that amount of gold, to which he says Malong also had a solution.

“We trust you, at least you pay the tax and take the gold, sell and pay us after,” Dessie quotes Malong as saying.


He says when they said they did not even have the money to pay tax for the 150kgs, Malong told them he did not have money to refund their investment, and that they did not want to lose it.

The money required to clear 150kgs was $500,000 (about Sh50 million).

Dessie and Abebe went back to South Africa to look for it. When they returned with $200,000 (Sh20 million), Dessie says, Malong and group told them that it was not enough, but they would use that to talk to an officer of URA to let them through Entebbe.

Before releasing the money, Dessie, says, they demanded to see the URA officer referred to. Malong then presented to them a man he called Patrick, who he introduced as “chief officer” of Uganda Revenue Authority.

Patrick eventually agreed to let them export the gold and pay the other part of the tax after they sell, Dessie says.

After paying the $200,000 (about Sh20 million) as a deposit on the taxes, Dessie says, another demand cropped up.

Malong and his group wanted another $100,000 (about Sh10 million) because they were going to release gold of too much value to Dessie and Abebe and there were things that needed to be attended to urgently.

After receiving the money, Malong and group allowed the gold to be shipped to Dubai. Another scene was just unfolding.


On the appointed day of the flight to Dubai, Dessie and Abebe went to the airport and, as they had got used to doing, waited for Gavana to come through with the gold and documentation.

Gavana this time showed up, and he did have the cargo – a steel container with 150 bars of gold.

Dessie says the box was opened and they were allowed to inspect it to confirm that it is what they had bought.

They confirmed it and were allowed to lock the box with their own padlock and take the keys.

The duo travelled to Dubai and were told that their cargo would follow them there.

On the following day while in Dubai, they went to Blue Sky Cargo to ask for their merchandise.

On leaving Entebbe airport, they had been given the paperwork and a tracking number for their gold.

The cargo was nowhere to be found.

In panic, Dessie says, they called Malong and Gavana, who had stayed back in Kampala, to find out what the problem was.


Dessie says Malong told them not to worry, that he was always in control, that the gold would be found.

The following day, Dessie says, Malong called to say the gold had been taken to Nairobi and not Dubai, requesting them to fly to Nairobi. Dessie and Abebe flew to Nairobi.

Dessie says when they got to Nairobi, they found Malong and group, who informed them that the gold was in the hands of the revenue body.

“Malong told us that a chief Kenya revenue service officer was his brother, so we were lucky,” Dessie says.

Malong introduced his “brother” as Owino in Kenya. It was Owino’s turn to explain to Dessie and Abebe what had happened.

Dessie says Owino told them that the revenue officer in Uganda had smuggled the gold to Nairobi instead of sending it to Dubai because the duo had only paid less than half of the tax.

Dessie says Malong told them that they were in luck because if Owino was not his brother, the gold would have been seized by the tax body in Kenya.

Malong said the gold would not return to Uganda since that would cause problems.

Dessie says Malong implored them to let Owino do the paperwork showing that the gold originated from Nairobi and facilitate its export.

Dessie and Abebe were then required to pay another $450,000 (about Sh45 million) to complete the process.
Malong said the gold would not return to Uganda since that would cause problems.

Dessie says Malong implored them to let Owino do the paperwork showing that the gold originated from Nairobi and facilitate its export.

Dessie and Abebe were then required to pay another $450,000 (about Sh45 million) to complete the process.

If they paid the taxes in Nairobi, Owino told the duo, they would get a gold origination certificate for Kenya and forget about Uganda and Congo.

Dessie and Abebe had already spent way beyond their limits by that time without getting anything back, and they just couldn’t raise the money that Malong and Owino said was needed to pay the taxes in Nairobi.

Because Dessie and Abebe said they had no money, Owino offered to help them by applying for a quick loan, a bond, to get the $450,000 (Sh45 million) required.

He presented to the duo what he called application documents for the bond, and filled them. But before the bond could be approved, he said he needed to facilitate the process.

So Dessie and Abebe had to raise $100,000 (Sh10 million) for that purpose.
The duo flew back to South Africa and returned with the $100,000 (Sh10 million) that Owino said was needed for facilitation.

Shortly afterwards, Malong told them that only a loan of $150,000 (Sh15 million) had been approved for Owino, and so Dessie and Abebe had to look for the extra $300,000 (Sh30 million) to pay the taxes.

If they could not raise the money, Dessie says Malong told them, they could as well accept to lose whatever they had invested until that time and go back home.


Dessie and Abebe chose to fight on.

They flew back to South Africa and Dessie mortgaged his house for $500,000 (Sh50 million), which he says he all sent to Malong because Malong said he also needed $200,000 (Sh20 million) for his expenditures while in Nairobi working on the duo’s issues.

When the duo returned to Nairobi, Dessie says Owino was optimistic that all would be fine, but he had a fresh piece of advice.

Instead of taking the gold to Dubai as the original plan had been, they should fly it to Hong Kong.

A week later, Dessie said, Owino was ready with the documentation that would help the duo fly their gold to Hong Kong.

But before they would fly, another problem cropped up.

The hitherto unnamed Congolese general, who was the owner of the gold, Malong told Dessie and Abebe, had grown suspicious that after selling the gold in Hong Kong, the duo could disappear without paying the rest of his money.

Malong told the duo that the general had appointed a ‘lawyer’ to represent him in the transaction, and that they needed to first fly back to Kampala to meet with the lawyer before they travelled to Hong Kong.

In Kampala, Dessie says they met a man who introduced himself as Tony, whose real name he says he later found out to be Hannington Tayoba.

The meeting happened at BMK House near Hotel Africana, Dessie says, in an office tagged as a ‘law firm’.


Dessie says Tony told them that he had instructions from the general to travel with them to Hong Kong, but that he would do that at the duo’s expense because he was going to help them and they were holding high value merchandise belonging to his client.

The duo bought for Tony a business ticket worth $3,000 (Sh300,000), and had to cater for his hotel and other expenses while in Hong Kong.

In total they, Dessie says, they gave him $10,000 (Sh1 million).

Tony told them that he did not know them and did not trust them, so he could not disclose to them which flight he was taking and when he would fly to Hong Kong.

He only told them the day they would meet him at the Sheraton hotel in Hong Kong.

Dessie says they travelled and slept in a much cheaper hotel because they could not afford the Sheraton, and went to see Tony on the appointed morning.

Before they left Kampala, Tony took the paperwork for his clients’ gold and Dessie and Abebe were to find him with it in Hong Kong.

The duo were not required to fly back to Nairobi because Owino told them that he had already sent the gold to Hong Kong.

On meeting Tony at the hotel, Dessie says, the law in Hong Kong required them to get the gold tested and have a testing certificate before it would be sold.


Tony called agents of the shipment firm Fedex and asked them to deliver the consignment to his hotel.

The box was delivered by two Chinese men and a Ugandan national who said he was working in Hong Kong with Fedex, Dessie says.

Dessie and Abebe were relieved to see the container that they had last seen at Entebbe airport months earlier, with their own padlock still intact.

Tony asked Dessie and Abebe to open the box and pick a gold bar of their choice which they would take for testing.

On opening, Dessie says he saw the same gold bars that he had seen when they locked the box. Dessie picked one of the bars and locked the box again.

After picking the bar, Dessie says, he asked the men and Tony whether they would leave the box in Tony’s hotel room so that they would sell the gold after testing.

Tony – “the lawyer” – and the Ugandan on the delivery team, Dessie says, spoke to each other in a language Dessie and Abebe did not understand, perhaps Luganda, and Tony later told the buying duo that that would not be possible.

Tony explained to Dessie and Abebe that the Ugandan man had just broken the Fedex rules by smuggling out the box because the box could only be released to them after they paid everything to Fedex, including $45,000 (Sh4.5 million) for storage.


Dessie and Abebe were in Hong Kong, and did not have the money to pay for storage.

But they had to deal with the testing aspect.

Using the Google search engine, Dessie said they found a contact of a refinery that dealt in gold testing and purchase.

After picking the bar, they headed to the refinery for testing.

At this moment, Tony asked to be the one to hold the gold bar, to which Dessie and Abebe yielded because they saw no reason to object.

They got to the refinery and the bar, on being tested, turned out to be 97.6 pure gold and 23 karat, says Dessie.

The people at the refinery liked the bar and wanted to buy it.

They were prepared to pay $41,000 (Sh4.1 million) per kilogramme of gold, Dessie says.

Tony refused to sell it to them. Asked why, Dessie says, Tony said they had to return it to Fedex and have the box cleared with all its contents intact.


The refinery people gave them the testing certificate and they left.

Dessie and Abebe now had to clear the hurdle of paying the $45,000 (Sh4.5 million)to Fedex for storage before they would at last be able to sell the gold the following day.

Dessie says he called his Chinese friend and asked for a one-day loan of that amount.

The Chinese friend, Dessie says, did not have the money ready, but said he would give him the money the following morning.

Dessie and Abebe went with Tony to his hotel, had dinner and finally retired to their low-end hotel in the knowledge that their pursuit of many months would mature the following day.

Early on the appointed morning, at 9am, Dessie and Abebe were at the Sheraton Hotel in Hong Kong, having already picked the $45,000 (Sh4.5 million) from Dessie’s dutiful Chinese friend.

They were ready to pay Fedex, get their merchandise and proceed to the refinery to sell it.

And here came the shocker: They did not find Tony at the hotel.


The phone number by which they had been contacting him was switched off.

They tried to contact the room in which he had been booked and he was not there. Hotel staff later informed them that he had checked earlier that morning.

“We cried; we did not know what to do,” Dessie says. They rushed to the airport hoping to get a hold of Tony. No chance.

In panic, Dessie and Abebe called Malong, who had stayed back in Kampala, and explained what had happened.

Ever the calm actor, Dessie says, Malong told them that they needed not worry.

No one could cross the paths of the two generals because it is very dangerous, Dessies says Malong assured them.

They flew back to Kampala to meet Malong and his group for a solution.

Dessie says that he and Abebe, in the company of Malong and Gavana, met Tony in the office they had first met him on BMK House.

Tony told them he had abandoned them in Hong Kong because he did not trust them and “did not want to waste time with us”.


Dessie says Tony told them he was busy at the moment but that he would be available to travel with them again in two weeks’ time now that there had been more confidence building.

The duo spent the two weeks at Speke Resort Munyonyo waiting for Tony.

After the waiting period elapsed, Dessie says, Tony informed them that the paperwork they had from the revenue office in Nairobi had a spelling error that had to be fixed first before they would travel back to Hong Kong.

It would cost $100,000 (Sh1 million). He showed them the document that needed to be fixed.

They wondered how he would get paperwork made in Nairobi fixed from Kampala. Tony said that is what he is good at.

Dessie and Abebe travelled back to South Africa and mobilised the $100,000 (Sh10 million), which he says they sent to Malong to pass on to Tony.

On returning from South Africa, Tony also informed Dessie and Abebe that that the general, the owner of the gold, was short of money and the deal was moving at creeping pace.

He needed $100,000 (Sh10 million) to feed his fighters.

The duo returned to South Africa, got the money and passed it to Tony, after which he said he now trusted them enough to travel with them again.


But before they would travel to Hong Kong again, Tony told the duo that the bond Owino had contracted in Nairobi on their behalf to support their tax payment had expired, and Dessie and Abebe had to pay the $150,000 (Sh15 million).

Dessie and Abebe, devoid of cash, turned to Malong for advice on how they would proceed.

He says Malong told them that he would call the wife of the Congolese general, whom he called “madem general”, and ask for help.

‘Madam general’ did not have cash when Malong called her, however, but she offered them 50kgs of gold to sell in Uganda so that they would raise money to get by.

Dessie says they told Malong that they did not know any gold buyers in Uganda, so the 50kgs of gold would not help them.

Dessie says Malong told them he knew gold buyers in Uganda.

With the issue of market now disposed of, there remained the issue of how the gold would leave Congo for Uganda.

Malong asked Dessie and Abebe to raise $30,000 (Sh3 million) for transport, which they did. After this money was available, Malong also said he would have to go to Congo and needed $10,000 (Sh1 million).

That too he was given, Dessie says.


After ‘returning’ with the gold, Dessie and Abebe now looked to Malong to have it sold. Malong said he would invite Owino to come over and take it to Nairobi for sale.

When they contacted Owino, the 2017 election campaigns were at their peak.

Owino claimed to be related to Raila Odinga, who was running for president, and that he was too involved in his campaign to spare time to come to Uganda.

He needed more time.

Malong then advised Dessie and Abebe to first go back to South Africa and look for money.

The duo returned from South Africa with $100,000 (Sh10 million) and handed it over to Gavana to facilitate a return to Hong Kong to sell the 50kgs of gold.

The documentation was prepared and soon they were on a flight back to Hong Kong.

At Entebbe airport, they were given a tracking number to follow the 50kgs of gold that they were told was on its way to Hong Kong.

On reaching Hong Kong and checking using the tracking number, however, the consignment of 50kgs of gold was in Dubai headed for Brussels, Belgium.

The panicky duo called Gavana to find out what was happening.


Gavana told them that the consignment had been held by the United Nations in Dubai and they needed $30,000 (Sh3 million) to facilitate the process of having it released.

From Hong Kong, Dessie says he called a family member in South Africa to send $30,000 (Sh3 million) to Gavana in Kampala.

By the time the money was sent, the tracking system showed that the gold had reached Brussels.

Gavana told the duo that the UN had held the gold again. It was coming to December 2017.

Dessie says Malong told them that was a bad time because general, the owner of the gold, was sick in hospital but would have the gold released in the new year (2018) when he gets well and after the festivities.

The duo had stayed in Hong for two weeks waiting for gold that did not reach them.

Malong advised them to go back home to South Africa and that since the 50kgs of gold was stuck in Brussels, the more convenient thing was to mobilise $150,000 (Sh15 million) and facilitate the selling of the 150kgs of gold, which was already in Hong Kong.


Dessie and Abebe decided to fly to Kampala instead and get a clearer picture of how they would proceed in the new year.

They met with Malong’s group and Tony at his office, again. They wanted Tony to break down the costs that stood in the way of the Hong Kong deal being completed.

Tony said they needed to pay the $150,000 (Sh15 million) for the bond in Nairobi; $100,000 (Sh10 million) which was the accumulated bill due to Fedex for storage; and $50,000 (Sh5 million) for Tony’s facilitation.

Dessie says he returned to South Africa and mortgaged his rental residential building to a money lender, who gave him $300,000 (Sh30 million).

They returned to Uganda and he handed the money to Tony, he says in the presence of Malong and the entire group, at his office at BMK house.

He also gave Tony $10,000 (Sh10 million) for transport and other costs for the trip to Hong Kong.

Like before, Tony would travel separately and would meet the duo at the Sheraton Hotel in Hong Kong.


They got there on the appointed day and Tony was not there.

The telephone number he had given them to contact him on was switched off.

Dessie and Abebe contacted Malong about Tony’s absence in Hong Kong, and Malong later asked them to fly to Nairobi, where he said he had discovered Tony had gone instead.

In Nairobi, the duo met with Owino, who told them that there had been another problem.

In Hong Kong, Owino said, the authorities had found out that the gold had originated from DR Congo yet the paperwork showed that it had come from Nairobi.

Owino told the duo that to get out of the situation, they needed to give him $50,000 (Sh5 million).

Dessie says they told Malong that they did not have that money and only managed to give him $5,000 (Sh500,000).

“He took the $5,000 (Sh500,000) and started dissing us that we had only given him $5,000 (Sh500,000),” Dessie says.

Perhaps realising that the duo had spent to the last penny, Owino now lost interest in them and eventually told them that the gold had been returned to DR Congo.

Then the duo turned to Malong about the way forward, Dessie says Malong confirmed to them that the general had indeed received the gold in Congo.


It was already Christmas time and Malong advised them to return home to South Africa and resume the business in the new year.

In early 2018, Dessie says they contacted Malong again, who then said he had contacted general’s wife and would help them to take the gold to Lusaka, Zambia.

They were again required to spend money while in Lusaka.

Dessie sent $10,000 (Sh1 million) to facilitate the business in Lusaka, but he says they later got upset when they were asked for another $60,000 (Sh6 million).

In the meantime, players kept dropping off the scene, with Owino and Tony now unavailable.

When Dessie met Malong again, he says Malong claimed that he was angry with Tony for crossing him, and that he was looking for him.

Dessie tried a hunt down for Tony of his own, returning to the office on BMK House, but in vain.

After all options were exhausted, Dessie opened a case against the group in Nairobi, and was later referred to Uganda because most of the activity and players were in Kampala.