The embezzlement trial of a former Ugandan health minister accused of misusing funds meant to pay for immunization programs for children began Monday.

Jim Muhwezi, a longtime presidential ally, and two deputies were arrested in May and charged with abuse of office and causing financial loss to the government after US$1.3 million was deemed misappropriated from funds meant to be used to protect Ugandan children from diseases like tuberculosis, measles and tetanus.

Prosecutors said the defendants used the funds to buy cars and property. The trio deny all charges and were granted bail. If convicted, they face at least five years in jail.

The defendants' lawyers stormed out of the courtroom Monday as the trial began after a judge overruled their objections that the court had no jurisdiction to try the three men.

The three were quietly dropped from their jobs during a Cabinet reshuffle last year after separate misconduct allegations came to light. An eight-month investigation into the Health Ministry had found gross mismanagement of funds, including large sums of money that had been used for political campaigns.