Rwanda taxman sets auction date for exiled tycoon's UTC mall

Tuesday September 12 2017

The Union Trade Centre is a pioneer modern mall

The Union Trade Centre is a pioneer modern mall in Kigali. It was taken into statutory management in 2013 after it was classified as an abandoned property. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA | NMG 

By EDMUND KAGIRE
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Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) will later this month auction a high-end shopping mall in Kigali owned by exiled tycoon Tribert Ayabatwa Rujugiro.

The taxman said it will sell the Union Trade Centre to recover taxes owed to it by the businessman on September 25 at 2pm local time.

The mall which sits on a prime location in the Rwandan capital’s central business district is valued at $20 million.

“Rwanda Revenue Authority wishes to inform all those interested that it will be selling by auction Union Trade Centre, a non-movable asset located in the City of Kigali, Nyarugenge district, Nyarugenge Sector, Kiyovu cell, plot no; UPI 1/01/09/03/682,” reads the announcement signed by the Commissioner General Richard Tusabe.

RRA said interested buyers could view the building from September 20.

The Rujugiro mall, which has been at the centre of dispute including at the East African Court of Justice, was seized by the government in 2013 as part of abandoned properties.

While the taxman has not revealed how much is due, contradicting reports say UTC owes taxes from 2015, with others saying the arrears are from 2007 to 2013, when the government took over management.

Further, the reports say UTC owes $1.5 billion in taxes and a similar amount in fines. Efforts by The EastAfrican to verify this information with RRA have been futile.

Politics?

Mr Rujugiro fled the country for South Africa in 2009 after falling out with ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Ikotanyi). He was also President Paul Kagame’s special economic advisor.

He maintains that the seizure of his properties is politically motivated.

In May this year, the RRA released a list of 14 properties it said it would auction for tax defaults. UTC was one of them.

Speaking to BBC in May, Mr Rujugiro said before leaving the country, he had cleared all dues with the government.

“Before I left, we had done an audit for the last five years up to 2009 and we found that UTC owed the government Rwf20m which was cleared,” he said.

He said whoever intended to buy the mall would be doing so illegally, adding that he would repossess it.

In July, tenants including banks, retail shops and restaurants were asked to vacate the building by August 1. Some have done so after especially after rental prices were doubled.

The case Mr Rujugiro filed at the regional court, EACJ, is still pending. A hearing date is yet to be announced.

Rwanda accuses Mr Rujugiro of funding subversive activities against the government, including bankrolling exiled persons wanted by the Kigali authorities. He is considered one of Africa’s richest businessmen with a net worth well over $5 billion.