The death of Assinapol Rwigara continues to draw controversy, more than one month after the wealthy businessman died in what police said was a road accident only for his family to challenge the version later.
Last week, the family of the tycoon wrote to President Paul Kagame requesting him to intervene and call for fresh investigation into the manner in which he died. They cited foul play.
Four children of the deceased and their mother allege that Rwigara was killed by unknown assailants who then stage-managed the accident, with an accusing finger being pointed at police for covering up the circumstances in which he died.
Rwanda National Police however maintains that its version of the story is genuine and should be believed by the public, saying Rwigara died after his car was rammed by a truck.
Days after the family wrote to the president, several local online publications are now trying to link the aggrieved family to exiled opposition groups, mainly Rwanda National Congress (RNC). The family has however vehemently denied the allegations.
“The family of the late Rwigara risks falling in the trap of opposition groups which have begun using his death as a tool to fight the government,” wrote Rushyashya, a Kinyarwanda newspaper, while another article carried in the vernacular website www.igihe.com linked the family narrative to that championed by opposition groups.
According to the piece published by the website, the narrative provided by the family in the letter to the head of state was first heard in Belgium in a requiem mass for the late Rwigara. The article alleged that the story is similar to the account given by musician Benjamin Rutabana at the function.
Mr Rutabana, a confessed member of RNC, is an in-law of the late Rwigara. At the mass organised by friends and relatives of Rwigara, Mr Rutabana gave an account of what they know and concluded that the state had a hand in the death.
Rwigara’s death attracted a lot of media attention, with exiled opposition groups particularly jumping at the opportunity it granted them to accuse the government of having a hand in it.
However, Anne Rwigara, the daughter of the deceased businessman, dismissed the alleged link to opposition groups. Rwigara is known for financing the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) during the liberation struggle.
“We cannot fall in any trap, whether it’s the opposition’s or anyone else’s,” the tycoon’s daughter said. “We are not members of the opposition, nor was our father.
“Those are just mere allegations by people who want to taint our family.
“Our father was just a peaceful businessman and an investor who never got involved in politics. We simply asked for justice to take its course and that is all. Anyone trying to politicise this has his or her own interests.”
She also said that the appeal to the head of state was a result of losing trust in other institutions, including the police, whose report the family says has many loopholes. The family is awaiting a feedback from the President’s Office.
In July 2007, Rwigara was thrust into the limelight when one of his buildings that was under construction in Kiyovu collapsed, killing three site workers and injuring others. The businessman went into hiding and was slapped with charges of manslaughter and contempt of court.
The case would suck in army generals Frank Rusagara and Sam “Kaka” Kanyemera, who were accused of shielding him from the wheels of justice.
Sought Rwf800 million
In early 2013, Rwigara won a court case against Nyarugenge District, which had halted construction at the site, plot number 5860/Kiyovu. He had resumed works at the site by the time of his death.
In January this year, Rwigara went to court seeking compensation of close to Rwf800 million in damages against the district. The Supreme Court set the hearing for March 3 to July 10.
Rwigara’s business acumen started to show in the 1980s when his company, which came to be known as Premier Tobacco, became the leading manufacturer and exporter of tobacco products in the country.
He then diversified into importing products into Rwanda, including liquors and wines. His empire expanded in the late 1980s and early ’90s as he extended his reach in the region.
In 1991, when the then-rebel RPF launched an attack on Rwanda, Rwigara was on many occasions accused of being an RPF insider by the then government of Juvenal Habyarimana.
He was among businessmen and politicians who faced rough times for their alleged backing and financing of RPF-Inkotanyi. He was also accused of trying to restore the monarchy in Rwanda.
According to his daughter, the family is living in fear because of the mystery of their father’s death. However, speaking to BBC last week, Minister for Internal Security Sheikh Musa Fazil Harerimana said the security of the family was guaranteed like that of any other Rwandan.