Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 2 June 2020

Felicien Kabuga: from small-time trader to accused of funding genocide

In 1994, 800,000 people were murdered in the Rwandan massacres, and for over 20 years, the man accused of bankrolling the killings avoided arrest

Readers look at a newspaper in Nairobi in 2002 carrying the photograph of Felicien Kabuga after the US issued a $5m reward for his whereabouts. Reuters, file  
Readers look at a newspaper in Nairobi in 2002 carrying the photograph of Felicien Kabuga after the US issued a $5m reward for his whereabouts. Reuters, file  

Felicien Kabuga, who was arrested on Saturday in a Paris suburb, rose from poverty to become one of Rwanda's richest men before allegedly using his wealth to fund the country's 1994 genocide.

Mr Kabuga's money and connections also helped him avoid arrest for more than 20 years as he moved from Rwanda to Switzerland, the former Zaire and Kenya.

A handout photo released on May 16, 2020 by the Mecanisme pour les Tribunaux penaux internationaux (IRMCT - International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals)/United Nations shows Felicien Kabuga, one of the last key fugitives wanted over the 1994 Rwandan genocide, who was arrested in a Paris suburb on May 16, 2020. Charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) with "genocide", "complicity in genocide", and "direct and public incitement to commit genocide", Kabuga, 84, was living under a false identity outside Paris and people close to him said he had died. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO /Mecanisme pour les Tribunaux penaux internationaux/Nations Unies" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS / AFP / Mecanisme pour les Tribunaux penaux internationaux/Nations Unies / - / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO /Mecanisme pour les Tribunaux penaux internationaux/Nations Unies" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Felicien Kabuga, one of the last key fugitives wanted over the 1994 Rwandan genocide, who was arrested in a Paris suburb on May 16, 2020. AFP Mecanisme pour les Tribunaux penaux internationaux, United Nations

Charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda with genocide, complicity in genocide and direct and public incitement to commit genocide, Mr Kabuga, 84, was living under a false identity outside Paris and people close to him said he had died.

He was one of the world's most-wanted fugitives and often referred to as the person who financed three months of Rwandan massacres from April to June, 1994 in which 800,000 people were murdered.

epa08426383 A general view of the apartment building where Felicien Kabuga, one of the most wanted suspects in the Rwandan genocide has been arrested in Asnieres sur Seine, near Paris, France, 16 May 2020. French Justice ministry has announced Kabuga was arrested in early morning in Asnieres where he had been living under false identity. EPA/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON
A general view of the apartment building where Felicien Kabuga, one of the most wanted suspects in the Rwandan genocide, was arrested in Asnieres sur Seine, near Paris. EPA

Mr Kabuga's parents were modest farmers and his first jobs included peddling items door to door and selling cigarettes and used clothing in a market in his native Byumba region in northern Rwanda.

Mr Kabuga then moved to Kigali where he opened several shops.

According to French press reports, he owned a tea plantation, a mill and real estate, including apartments and warehouses.

By 1994, he was said to be one of the richest men in Rwanda and if farmers in remote villages saved up money, they were often nicknamed "Kabuga".

In 1993, one of his daughters married the eldest son of Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, whose assassination triggered the 1994 genocide of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate ethnic Hutus.

FILE - In this Friday, April 4, 2014 file photo, the skulls and bones of some of those who were slaughtered as they sought refuge inside the church are laid out as a memorial to the thousands who were killed in and around the Catholic church during the 1994 genocide in Ntarama, Rwanda. Felicien Kabuga, one of the most wanted fugitives in Rwanda's 1994 genocide who had a $5 million bounty on his head, has been arrested in Paris, authorities said Saturday, May 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)
The skulls and bones of some of those who were slaughtered as they sought refuge inside a church are laid out as a memorial to the thousands killed during the 1994 genocide in Ntarama, Rwanda. AP

Another daughter married Augustin Ngirabatware, the country's planning minister who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his role in the bloodshed.

Mr Kabuga was also charged by the ICTR with two lesser but related genocide charges.

He headed the National Defence Fund, to which he and other businessmen contributed, and which allegedly bought machetes and uniforms for the army and Interahamwe Hutu militia.

"In his position of authority, Felicien Kabuga between April and June 1994 contributed to the Interahamwe's killing and harming of persons identified as Tutsis by organising meetings ... to raise funds to purchase arms," the ICTR indictment read.

Jean Damascene Bizimana, executive secretary of the National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide, said that Kabuga had funded "tonnes of machetes and grenades which were imported and distributed across the country as weapons".

Many of the victims were hacked to death with machetes.

In addition, Kabuga helped create the notorious Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines that used its broadcasts to incite people to commit murder.

"Kabuga served as president of RTLM and as such had de-facto and de-jure control of programming, operations, and finances of RTLM," the indictment said.

He is also accused of directly supervising Interahamwe massacres in Gisenyi, north-west Rwanda, and in the Kigali district of Kimironko.

In July 1994, Mr Kabuga sought refuge in Switzerland but was thrown out a month later.

He flew to Kinshasa and later moved to Kenya, where he managed to avoid three arrest attempts by police and ICTR officials after a warrant was issued in 1997.

The United States offered a reward of $5 million (Dh18.3m) in 2002 for information leading to his arrest and funded a media campaign in Kenya that splashed his photo across the country.

In 2011, the ICTR organised forums to collect evidence for Kabuga's eventual trial in case some witnesses died before he could be arrested.

Updated: May 17, 2020 12:10 PM

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