The government has frozen the bank accounts of exiled tycoon Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa and also taken over his shopping mall, in a move the South Africa-based businessman says is politically motivated.
A letter signed by the Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga addressed to the managing director of Access Bank Rwanda dated August 6, requests the bank to freeze 12 accounts held by Mr Rujugiro and his wife Nathalie Mukagatete pending “criminal investigation.”
The letter does not detail what type of investigations are being conducted but at the same time, the Commission for Abandoned Properties summoned the management of Union Trade Centre, one of Kigali’s biggest shopping malls in which Mr Rujugiro is a major shareholder to appear before it.
Once one of the Rwanda Patriotic Front strong men, Mr Rujugiro fell out with the ruling party at the end of 2009, having successfully battled tax evasion charges in the United Kingdom, following his arrest in October 2008.
Upon return from the UK, Rujugiro went to South Africa where most of his businesses were based.
On April 15, 2011, the police announced that they had intercepted eight cars belonging to Mr Rujugiro which were enroute to eastern DR Congo where they were suspected they will be used to aid terrorist groups.
The vehicles impounded along Ruhengeri-Gisenyi Road on their way to Goma, belonged to Congo Tobacco Company (CTC) which is owned by Rujugiro.
According to police spokesperson ACP Theos Badege, intelligence sources had found out that the vehicles were meant to support “terror activities” planned by dissident Lt Gen Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa and spy chief Col Patrick Karegeya.
“The vehicles, purchased from Akagera Motors, were seized following information that they were intended to logistically support military activities by fugitives —Kayumba/Karegeya and their collaborators operating in eastern Congo,” ACP Badege announced at the time.
The development was the first to highlight the rumoured fall0ut between Mr Rujugiro and President Kagame’s RPF. Rujugiro was highly respected in RPF ranks having been one of the major financiers of the liberation struggle in the 90s.
It is from this fallout that Mr Rujugiro through his advisor Dr David Himbara, who was President Kagame’s Principle Private Secretary until 2011 when he too fled to exile, described the move to attach Mr Rujugo’s properties and freeze his accounts as “hostile” and politically motivated.
He said the move to freeze the accounts and also summon the management of UTC to appear before the commission as the “first step towards a takeover of the UTC, which is a privately owned and operated business.”
The shopping mall, which opened in 2006, is one of Kigali’s major commercial centres and houses over 80 shops, restaurants and other businesses. It is valued at $20 million.
Dr Himbara speaking on behalf of Rujugiro said the move to freeze the accounts is “illegal”, “unethical” and “unprovoked.”
“Mr Rujugiro was neither notified by the government of Rwanda of the plans to freeze his accounts nor did it allow for any legal recourse. There is no basis for this illegal act.”
“We have just learnt that the meeting between the Commission of Abandoned Properties and UTC management was called off but whatever manoeuvres being done are illegal. The actions of the government amount to abuse of law,” Dr Himbara said in an email.
He pointed out that UTC is a private business registered by RDB and that it’s day-to-day management is on record and it is not an abandoned property.
Dr Himbara believes that UTC will try to use legal means to block this move.
“There is no other avenue beyond the law even though we know this too will prove difficult. UTC as an incorporated company registered with RDB and a taxpayer to Rwanda Revenue Authority has not broken any laws. Mr Rujugiro has invested in tea, real estate, RIG and UTC to the tune of over $50 million. He too has not broken any laws in Rwanda or elsewhere. UN cleared him of all false charges in DR Congo.”
According to Himbara, even in South Africa, the tax charges Rujugiro faced were settled out of court.
However the National Public Prosecution Authority says Mr Rujugiro like anybody else is not immune to criminal investigations.
Alain Mukuralinda the NPPA spokesperson told Rwanda Today that the move to freeze Rujugiro and his wife’s account was not “illegal” and that whoever feels its against the law should go to court.
“There is nothing illegal with freezing Mr Rujugiro or his wife’s accounts and neither were the actions of the commission illegal. Everything has a legal basis. We freeze the accounts of anybody being investigated for criminal activities, and after investigations are done, we ask the bank in question to unfreeze the accounts. This is a standard procedure,” said Mukuralinda.
However, the online world has been awash with comments and articles condemning the actions of the government for witch hunting its former allies.