France Arrests Rwandan Millionaire Accused of Financing 1994 Genocide

 France Arrests Rwandan Millionaire Accused of Financing 1994 Genocide


PARIS — One of the most-wanted fugitives of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, accused of financing the slaughter of as many as one million people, mostly Tutsis, was arrested in a Paris suburb early on Saturday, the French police said, ending a decades-long international hunt.

The fugitive, Félicien Kabuga, 84, had been on the run for 23 years since he was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda on multiple charges of genocide, ranging from importing machetes and hoes knowing they would be used for murder to running the radio station used to fan hatred of Rwanda’s Tutsi population

He was captured at 7 a.m. at a home rented by a relative in Asniéres-sur-Seine, outside Paris, where he had been staying under a false identity, officials said.

His capture, after a search that stretched across continents, is considered the most important arrest by an international tribunal since the apprehension in 2011 of Gen. Ratko Mladic, the Serbian military leader who was later convicted of having committed genocide during the Bosnian war of the early 1990s.

Believed to have been one of the richest and most powerful men in Rwanda before the genocide, Mr. Kabuga is charged with using his fortune to fund and organize the notorious Interahamwe militia, which carried out the brunt of the slaughter, often by hacking people to death.

He is accused of issuing them weapons, including several hundred thousand machetes imported from China, which were shipped to his companies, as well as providing them transport in his company’s vehicles.

The indictment against him also alleges that his radio station, Radio-Television Mille Collines, incited the killings through broadcasts that directed roaming gangs of killers to roadblocks and sites where Tutsi could be located.

“Kabuga has always been seen by the victims and survivors as one of the leading figures,” Serge Brammertz, the chief prosecutor at the tribunal, said by phone on Saturday from The Hague. “For them, after waiting so many years, his arrest is an important step toward justice.”

Mr. Kabuga was expected to be handed over to United Nations prosecutors, with his trial expected to take place in the tribunal’s successor court in Arusha, Tanzania.

The arrest ended a lengthy and often-frustrating search for Mr. Kabuga by international investigators across multiple countries. In 1994, he fled to Switzerland and asked for asylum, which was refused.

He is then believed to have taken refuge in Kenya, and then later passed through Germany, Switzerland and other countries. According to investigators, he settled in France about 10 years ago and has used several pseudonyms and passports.

In 2002, the United States government began circulating wanted posters in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, one of his known hide-outs. In an attempt to use its own resources and official connections to catch him, the United States had offered a reward of up to $5 million for his capture.

But with his huge bank account and high-level connections, he had managed until Saturday to escape an arrest warrant issued by the tribunal in 1997.

In the late 1990s, Mr. Kabuga was traced to a house owned by Hosea Kiplagat, a nephew of Kenya’s president at the time, Daniel arap Moi of Kenya, according to a report published in 2001 by the International Crisis Group, a research organization.

The study also detailed how investigators for the International Criminal Tribunal uncovered evidence that a Kenyan police officer might have tipped off Mr. Kabuga in 1997 that an arrest was imminent.

The Kenyan government at the time disputed the allegations that it had not been diligent in its search for Mr. Kabuga.

Rwandan officials on Saturday welcomed the capture of Mr. Kabuga, with Johnston Busingye, the Rwandan minister of justice, calling it one of the biggest arrests related to the 1994 genocide.

“It is historical on many levels,” Mr. Busingye said in a phone interview from the capital, Kigali. He said that Mr. Kabuga’s arrest showed that “You can run, but you cannot hide. It can’t be forever.”

A tribunal official said on Saturday that Mr. Kabuga had been tracked down in France after investigators followed communications among members of his family who, the official said, had acted as his support network.

Tens of thousands of Rwandans, including civilians, militia and the police, participated in the 100 days of bloodletting of the 1994 genocide.

The Rwandan government has tried thousands of people, and the United Nations Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has tried close to 80, among them senior government figures. After Mr. Kabuga’s capture, at least six senior figures suspected of participating in or orchestrating the genocide remain on an international most wanted list.

Rwandan refugees groups in France have long called for the arrest of some 20 Rwandans living in France, who they say played important roles in the genocide.

The long-awaited arrest of Mr. Kabuga is seen as a boost for international criminal justice, which has been under attack from the Trump administration. Supporters have been exasperated by the failure to arrest indicted war criminals.

“At a time when international justice is facing many challenges,” Mr. Brammertz said, “this will definitely support those who still believe in international justice.”

Abdi Latif Dahir contributed reporting from Nairobi, Kenya.





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