Rwandan tycoon drags govt to regional court

Saturday July 12 2014

The Union Trade Centre (UTC) mall in Kigali, which is owned by exiled Rwandan business mogul Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa. Photo/Cyril Ndegeya

Exiled tycoon Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa has sued the government of Rwanda in the East African Court of Justice over the seizure of his property and assets in the country.

Several properties and assets belonging to Mr Rujugiro have been taken over by the state after being categorised as “abandoned properties.”

The latest was the takeover of his shares in Nshili Kivu Tea Factory by Nyaruguru District authorities on June 25 after the Commission for Abandoned Properties resolved it was “poorly managed.” It is now expected to manage the shares on Mr Rujugiro’s behalf.

Mr Rujugiro has businesses in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan, South Africa, Angola, Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates, where he is currently based.

A former economic adviser of President Paul Kagame and stalwart of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), he fled in 2009 after he was accused of funding anti-government groups. The business magnate told The EastAfrican he was determined to fight the “illegal” seizure in the regional court.

“I have filed a case in the East African Court of Justice to redeem my properties, including UTC Mall and my residence,” Mr Rujugiro said. “It will be heard in August or early September. My properties have never lacked someone to manage them.”


Contrary to laws

The EastAfrican established that the case was, indeed, filed in EACJ under reference number 10 of 2013 by Union Trade Centre (UTC). EACJ president Dr Emmanuel Ugirashebuja had said he was unaware of it.

CAP has instructed NKTF to deposit all monies due to Mr Rujugiro in Nyaruguru District’s bank account for “safekeeping.” Dr David Himbara, an advisor of Mr Rujugiro who is exiled in Canada, said the government had “illegally” replaced Mr Rujugiro as a shareholder in NKTF.

“The government claims that Mr Rujugiro’s assets were taken over because they were abandoned since he does not reside in Rwanda,” Dr Himbara said. “As Mr Rujugiro explains, however, this assertion is contrary to Rwandan and universal laws that protect shareholders regardless of whether they are domiciled inside or outside their native countries.

“Rwanda seems to be saying that no investor residing outside the country may own shares in Rwandan-based companies or, to be precise, a native Rwandan not living in their homeland may not own assets of any kind in their country.”

Nyaruguru vice-mayor Fabien Niyitegeka, the district’s CAP chair, confirmed the takeover.

“It is true we have taken over the management of the shares, but it is not about Mr Rujugiro alone,” he told The EastAfrican. “In fact, we have never seen him, or anyone from him with power of attorney, coming to us.

“So, the commission resolved that these shares were abandoned.”

He said an account to hold earnings of Mr Rujugiro’s shares had been opened. The tycoon holds an estimated five per cent stake each in the tea plantations and the factory, which he co-owns with a British firm.

A few months ago, CAP in the Kigali districts of Nyarugenge and Kicukiro took over the UTC Mall and the 60-room residence, respectively. The mall, located in the heart of the city, is valued at $20 million and the residence $2 million. The state also took over his local bank accounts.

The high-end Gikondo residence is said to have been converted into a guest house and bar but when The EastAfrican visited, there was no visible activity and the policeman at the gate denied our reporter access.

“No one is allowed inside; go to Kicukiro District and get permission,” the officer said.

A district official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the mansion was in the hands of Rwanda National Police but that was refuted by Internal Security Minister Sheikh Musa Harelimana at a news conference.

“Police does not engage in commercial activities and, even if they did, it would not be in the alcohol business because their job is to keep law and order, including curbing excessive consumption of alcohol,” he said.