How Félicien Kabuga evaded capture for 26 years

It was reported that Kabuga was hiding in Kenya

Rich businessman Félicien Kabuga has overtaken prosecutors in the Rwandan genocide court for more than two and a half decades, using 28 pseudonyms and powerful connections on two continents to avoid capture.

The 84-year-old has been on the run for so long that the international tribunal created to bring those responsible for the 1994 genocide to justice stopped working.

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But he ended up being hunted last weekend for a hideout in a suburb of the French capital – thanks to an investigation re-launched by Serge Brammertz, a UN war crimes prosecutor who leads the body that handles pending war crimes cases. in Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

"We knew for a year that he was very likely to be in the UK, France or Belgium and we concluded just two months ago that he was in France," the chief prosecutor of the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Courts (IRMCT) told the BBC.

"French authorities located the apartment where he was hiding, which led to the operation."

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One of the main reasons he managed to escape for so long was "the complicity of his children," he said.

Félicien Kabuga was found hiding in an indescribable apartment in Asnières-sur-Seine
Félicien Kabuga was found hiding in an indescribable apartment in Asnières-sur-Seine

He is known to have at least five children – two of his daughters were married to children of former Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana, whose death when his plane was shot down on April 6, 1994 triggered the genocide.

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French investigators spied on Kabuga's sons to locate him in his third-floor apartment in the Parisian suburb of Asnières-sur-Seine, where he lived under a false identity using a passport from an unidentified African country.

According to Colonel Eric Emeraux, who heads a special French police unit that fights war crimes, the coronavirus pandemic also helped, as the blockade in France paralyzed many operations in parts of Europe, freeing up time to focus on the man accused of be the main financier of crime. the genocide.

In just 100 days in 1994, some 800,000 people were slaughtered in Rwanda by ethnic Hutu extremists – whom Kabuga, a man who made his fortune in the tea trade, would have supported.

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They were targeting members of the Tutsi minority community, as well as their political opponents, regardless of their ethnic origin.

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The United States offered a $ 5 million reward for the information that led to Kabuga's arrest.

But it was intriguing that, for so many years, one of Africa’s most wanted fugitives, with a $ 5 million ($ 4.1 million) accused of seven counts of genocide and crimes against humanity in 1997, managed to live in subterfuge and evade law enforcement in countries and continents.

Was he in Kenya?

Kabuga is accused of having lived in many East African countries, including Kenya, where he and his family had commercial interests.

Kenya has long been said to harbor the fugitive, with powerful politicians accused of thwarting efforts to arrest him.

Who is Félicien Kabuga?

  • Considered the richest man in Rwanda before the 1994 genocide

  • He made his fortune from tea in the 1970s and ventured into many other sectors at home and elsewhere.

  • He was close to the dominant party in the MRND – and related by marriage to President Juvénal Habyarimana, who died in 1994

  • Accused of being the main sponsor of the genocide plan and of using his business and facilities to organize and finance the killing

  • The principal owner of the private radio station RTLM, accused of inciting ethnic Hutus to kill Tutsis

  • The United States offered a $ 5 million reward for information that led to his arrest

In 2006, the International Criminal Court for Rwanda said there was evidence that Kabuga visited or resided in Kenya, where he pursued commercial interests.

Three years later, Stephen Rapp, then US ambassador for war crimes, accused successive Kenyan governments of refusing to hand over Kabuga.

There was evidence that Kabuga even attended the functions of influential people, he said – claims that Kenya has always denied.

There is no doubt that the Kabuga family owned assets in Kenya, as a property became the subject of a lawsuit in 2015, when his wife, Josephine Mukazitoni, who was the co-owner, tried and failed to regain access to her .

Known as Spanish Villas, it was seized because of a UN resolution requiring member states to locate and freeze Kabuga's assets.

Hunting wild ducks

Media reports pointed to Kabuga's presence in Kenya at different points, although they never provided proof that he or his wife lived there.

He reportedly escaped police trawls several times in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Over 800,000 people were killed in the Rwanda genocide
Over 800,000 people were killed in the Rwanda genocide

In an operation carried out in Nairobi on July 19, 1997, when police arrested seven other suspected genocide suspects in Rwanda, Kabuga allegedly escaped thanks to an advance warning from a senior officer.

For the journalists behind him, it turned out to be a dangerous business.

On January 16, 2003, freelance reporter William Munuhe was found dead in his Nairobi apartment.

More about the genocide:

His brother Josephat Gichuki says that after his death, he discovered that Munuhe was planning an operation with the FBI to arrest Kabuga for impersonating a businessman.

"To our surprise, the police said that Munuhe's death was a suicide [from carbon monoxide poisoning] after inhaling smoke from a coal stove, "Gichuki told the BBC.

"While in the morgue, I personally saw a gunshot wound to the head and blood in the room."

The authorities had been looking for Mr. Kabuga for many years
The authorities had been looking for Mr. Kabuga for many years

Eight years later, journalist John Allan Namu believes he was deliberately tricked by a source in Kenya to identify the wrong person, an innocent businessman, like Kabuga.

He thinks this was done because some were unhappy with what his investigations have unearthed, including evidence that Kabuga had a bank account in Kenya through which he conducted business.

The whole affair was so confused that he and his family were forced into hiding for months because of the death threats they were receiving.

"Where he was imprisoned is proof that Kabuga has survived as a fugitive for so long because of the collusion of people around the world, especially in Kenya," Namu told the BBC's Great Lake Service.

The hunt

Shortly after the genocide, Kabuga fled to Switzerland, but was not allowed to stay, and would have returned to Africa via Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Most of the evidence points to his presence in Kenya, although Brammertz says there have also been sightings of him in Madagascar and Burundi.

Kabuga's lawyers say he wants a trial in France
Kabuga's lawyers say he wants a trial in France

But this information has always been "reactive"; therefore, the operation that led to his arrest took "a sophisticated and coordinated operation, with simultaneous searches in multiple locations," he said.

It took him at least two years, starting at his last known location – in Germany, where he was last seen when he had surgery in 2007.

An extensive analysis of telephone and financial data eventually led to Paris.

"It is difficult to imagine that he could have escaped to French territory without the help of accomplices," says Patrick Baudoin, of the International Federation for Human Rights.

The mystery of his whereabouts for so many years has prompted Human Rights Watch to call for an investigation into how and who made this possible.

Pre-blocking hikes

His Paris neighbors say the elderly man has lived there for about three to four years.

Olivier Olsen, head of the homeowners' association in the building where he lived, told AFP news agency that Kabuga was "very discreet" and someone "who murmured when you said hi".

Before the blockade, he used to be seen strolling, he said.

Kabuga is now confined to the La Santé prison in central Paris, where he will remain until he is transferred to IRMCT custody.

Brammertz says it could take weeks or months and it could take a year to start a trial – in The Hague or in the Tanzanian city of Arusha, where the ICTR was sitting.

However, Kabuga's lawyers said he prefers to be tried in France.

Survivors of the genocide hope that such procedures will not delay the justice they seek.

After his arrest, Valerie Mukabayire, leader of the Rwandan widow group, Avega, told the BBC: "Every survivor of genocide is happy to be arrested. Everyone was waiting for this news. It is good that he faces justice."

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