By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA (Reuters) - A Ugandan minister was charged with corruption offences on Tuesday after he was arrested for allegedly taking a bribe from a hotel owner to help clear him of sexual harassment accusations.
Graft is rampant in the east African country, but the arrest of top government officials is rare.
Herbert Kabafunzaki, junior minister for labor, employment and industrial relations, was arrested on Saturday in the capital Kampala and has been in detention since.
Police say he was arrested moments after receiving 5 million Ugandan shillings ($1,385) as part-payment of a larger bribe he had solicited from the hotel owner to help clear him of sexual harassment allegations by one of his female workers.
Jane Kajugo, a spokeswoman for the director of public prosecutions, told Reuters Kabafunzaki was charged with soliciting a bribe, receiving a bribe and conspiracy to commit a felony.
"He pleaded not guilty to all the counts," Kajugo said, adding the minister was then sent to a maximum security prison in Kampala. He will return on Wednesday for a ruling on his bail application, Kajugo said.
The minister was charged alongside two alleged accomplices, one a friend who pleaded not guilty and the other a political assistant who pleaded guilty to the charges and is due to be sentenced on Wednesday.
The arrest of the three at a hotel was covered by Ugandan television, which showed bundles of cash spread on a table and the minister staring at it.
Government critics often blame corruption on long-ruling President Yoweri Museveni, 72, who they say is reluctant to punish loyal political supporters.
Andrew Karamagi, a Ugandan lawyer and rights activist, said he believed Kabafunzaki's arrest was "playing more to the gallery as opposed to seriously fighting corruption".
"It was a smokescreen," he said.
Business people routinely complain of being asked by government officials to pay bribes. Critics say corruption hampers the flow of investment and stifles entrepreneurship.
(Editing by Andrew Roche)