Kabuga arrest in France raises questions over Kenya link

Rwandan fugitive Félicien Kabuga. PHOTO | UN

What you need to know:

  • He was also the main financier and silent partner of President Habyarimana’s party, the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development.
  • Freelance journalist Michael Munuhe was tortured to death as he prepared to lead FBI agents to Kabuga’s hideout in Nairobi.

The arrest of Rwandan fugitive Felicien Kabuga in France has ended decades of allegations that Kenya was harbouring one of the most wanted génocidaires.

On Saturday, the United Nations International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) announced that Mr Kabuga was arrested by French authorities near Paris after a joint investigation with the IRMCT Office of the Prosecutor in “a sophisticated, coordinated operation with simultaneous searches across a number of locations”.

“The arrest of Felicien Kabuga today is a reminder that those responsible for genocide can be brought to account, even 26 years after their crimes,” IRMCT said in the statement.

The statement recognised many law enforcement agencies and prosecution services from around the world, among them those in Rwanda, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the US.

It, however, left out Kenya, whose law enforcement agencies and prosecution services were at some point also involved in the hunt for Kabuga.

For many years believed to have been hiding in Kenya, Kabuga, born in 1935 in Muniga, Rwanda, is said to have been one of the perpetrators of the genocide against the Tutsi, in which more than a million people were killed.


According to court documents filed in Kenyan courts, the influential businessman was the president of the National Defence Fund, Rwanda, and close to former President Juvénal Habyarimana.

Habyarimana, an army officer and the second President of Rwanda, ruled almost single-handedly after he seized power in a 1973 coup until 1994, when a plane carrying him was shot down.

Under Habyarimana’s rule, political and financial power in Rwanda was consolidated within a tight circle, the core of which was the extended family of the president.

Mr Kabuga was a prominent member of this group. Two of his daughters were married to sons of President Habyarimana.

He was also the main financier and silent partner of President Habyarimana’s party, the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development.

With the fall of the genocidal regime, Kabuga fled to Switzerland, but was ordered to leave the country.

He went to Kinshasa before settling in Kenya, allegedly under the protection of the Daniel arap Moi government.

Mr Kabuga was indicted in 1997 on seven counts of genocide, attempt to commit genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, persecution and extermination.


Thereafter, Kenya was requested to assist in arresting him to face trial.

On July 19, 1997, when police arrested seven other Rwandan genocide suspects in Nairobi in a dramatic raid code-named “Operation NAKI” (Operation Nairobi-Kigali), Kabuga escaped the dragnet.

When the police arrived at the house, they found a note written by a senior Kenyan police officer, warning Kabuga of his impending arrest.

In December 2008, Kabuga evaded yet another police dragnet in Nairobi’s Runda estate. Officers involved in the operation said they were informed that the fugitive had left the house just before the raid.

Despite the hunt, the fugitive managed to register and run several business in Kenya, including building an estate and running a matatu business in Nairobi.

Following international pressure, in 2008, then-Attorney-General Amos Wako went to court seeking orders of preservation of landed property known as Spanish Villas belonging to Mr Kabuga and his wife Josephine Mukazitoni and Kenya Trust Company Ltd (KTC Ltd) as respondents in the matter.

The AG sought orders to stop the Kabugas from selling the property until the conclusion of a case pending in the ICTR (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda) where Mr Kabuga was on trial.


Mr Kabuga acquired the property in 1995, and three years later KTC Ltd was contracted by the couple’s daughter, Bernadette Uwamariya, to manage it.

Although the physical address of KTC Ltd is not known, the company had been collecting rent and depositing it in an account that was owned by Mr Kabuga at the Commercial Bank of Africa.

The account was then closed in 2005 and the Sh3.4 million in it wired to an account Mr Kabuga co-owned with Ms Mukazitoni in Belgium.

Since then, the court was told, KTC wired Sh290,000 in French Francs every three months to Banque De La Poste in Belgium.

In 2002, the US offered a reward up to $5m (Sh535 million) for information leading to the capture of Kabuga.

Following the hefty announcement, freelance journalist Michael Munuhe was tortured to death as he prepared to lead FBI agents to Kabuga’s hideout in Nairobi.

Mr Munuhe implicated former Internal Security permanent secretary Zakayo Cheruiyot after an extortion bid flopped. He claimed that the wanted man used his fortune to buy protection from Mr Cheruiyot. Mr Cheruiyot denied the claims.

The US again accused the Kenyan authorities of hiding the fugitive when then-US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Stephen J. Rapp in November 2009 accused both the Kibaki and Moi governments of refusing to hand over the fugitive, with a price on his head.


Mr Rapp said there was evidence that during the Kanu regime, Mr Kabuga attended functions organised by influential persons.

“Efforts were made to achieve cooperation but that failed. It has remained so even after 2002,” Mr Rapp said.

The intrigues to bring Kabuga to justice also involved sending journalists on a wild goose chase.

In one of the tales, it was claimed that an army marksman paid to guard Kabuga disappeared after he secretly took pictures of the fugitive.

Investigators traced Mr Kabuga’s connection to Kenya even before the start of the genocide through a series of business deals.

Mr Kabuga is said to have had control of the employees of the business enterprises that he headed, such as Kabuga ETS, which as from 1992 was reported to have bought massive stocks of machetes, hoes and other farm tools.

Most of the consignment came from Kenya with at least 50,000 machetes imported from Kenya in March 1994 and distributed to the Interahamwe.

“From 1992, through his company “ETS” Kabuga imported and distributed hundreds of thousands of machetes from Kenya in preparation for the genocide. Kabuga provided logistical assistance to the Interahamwe by supplying weapons and uniforms, and by providing transport to them in his company vehicles, thus easing their mobility, speed and scale of massacres,” The New Times, Rwanda’s leading daily newspaper, reported in 2009 in an investigation story titled “When an individual ‘bought off’ a nation”.