By Jean Gatera
Paul Rusesabagina, the head of MRCD-FLN, who was arrested for terrorism on the 31st of August appeared in Court today in the morning at at Kagarama Primary Court with his lawyers David Rugaza and Emiline Nyembo as Prosecution read a total of 14 charges against him in the pre-trial hearing of his case.
Rusesabagina was arrested late last month and unveiled to the media in Kigali on 31 August in a development that sent tongues wagging internationally. In a televised show with Rwanda Broadcasting Agency, President Kagame said Rusesabagina “willingly brought himself to Rwanda and there was never any wrongdoing in his apprehension.”
During the morning session of today’s hearing Rusesabagina’s lawyer questioned the court’s jurisdiction over his client, given that Rusesabagina was not a resident of Kagarama Sector in Kicukiro (Kigali), and that his client was not a resident of Rwanda, and that nor was he present when the alleged crimes were committed. The attorney further asserted that his client should not be tried for crimes committed by a different party (the MRCD’s armed wing FLN) simply for having entered into a partnership.
In a case that continues to excite a lot of international attention, Rusesabagina’s lawyer argued that his client should be granted immediate bail “since he has never committed a crime.”
The Defense’s strategy seemingly was to separate MRCD from its armed wing, FLN. Prosecution, however, showed that the two could not be separated from Rusesabagina. “Rusesabagina can’t be separated from MRCD-FLN actions. As the leader of the groups, he took responsibility; and in questioning, he admitted to the actions of the groups and even said that he regretted forming them. Hence, he (Rusesabagina) cannot be separated from their actions,” the prosecutor maintained.
Prosecution further exposed to the court that Rusesabagina’s citizenship or permanent residency did not provide immunity to crimes committed in Rwanda. Also, Rwanda tries even foreigners that commit crimes, court was reminded.
To the Defense’s claim that their client was a victim of his freedom of expression, Prosecution pointed out that what the suspect did was “more than express his views.” Rusesabagina knowingly financed, and has been financing terrorist attacks, said Prosecution, pointing to evidence. On the terrorism financing charge, Rusesabagina’s lawyers argued that “it was a case of small charitable amounts”, but Prosecution disagreed, saying that amounts in the range of 20,000 Euros could not be seen as charity.
At 11:30 AM, Court adjourned to consider the defense’s objections on its competence. When it resumed at 1pm, the Court rejected all three of the Defense’s positions. As Rusesabagina was arrested in Kigali, the Court deemed that a pre-trial detention hearing was within its jurisdiction and competence.
Prosecution then detailed why Rusesabagina should not be granted bail as it continues with its investigations. “Rusesabagina’s terrorist enterprise began as far back as 2009 with evidence of his collaboration with one Noel Habiyaremye of the FDLR terrorist militia,” the Prosecutor said. “When Habiyaremye was arrested and extradited to Rwanda, Rusesabagina then partnered with Gen. Wilson Irategeka of the same terrorist group.”
Prosecution then informed the court that it had evidence of communication and money transfers between Rusesabagina and FDLR. “We also have paperwork that was handed to us by Belgian Police showing the money trail from Rusesabagina to militia outfits in this region,” the Prosecutor said as he pleaded his case for Rusesabagina to be kept in detention since this indeed was a man “that could not be safely bailed”.
The Prosecutor also revealed that during their preliminary investigations, Rusesabagina had acknowledged giving 20,000 Euros to his FLN fighters, and that he had raised a total of 300,000 Euros for the same militia. With paper trail of financial transactions obtained from Belgium and other sources, it was exposed how Rusesabagina transferred money to FLN through intermediaries in Burundi, Seychelles, Madagascar and DR Congo.
Court asked Rusesabagina to enter a plea to the charges laid against him but he indicated that he preferred to enter a plea to each individual charge as the case progressed. “I will not add anything to my written submissions, for now. I spoke extensively about the crimes I am accused of with both prosecution and investigators and all my responses to these accusations are well documented in my file before court,” Rusesabagina said.
On accusations of FLN connection, Rusesabagina admitted links to the group and said: “ I also responded to the crimes that FLN has committed on Rwandan territory. This was not the mission we had given them. I also apologised for this.”
According to one of his defense lawyers, Emeline Nyembo, her client did not wish to enter a plea, fearing self-incrimination. “Our client thinks he can’t enter plea on each of the charges because, while he accepts committing some of the acts, he cannot qualify them as criminal offenses. He does not want to end up incriminating himself,” she said as his defense team tried to look for holes in the prosecution evidence.
While acknowledging that some of the evidence was obtained from their client’s computer and mobile phone, the Defense said that it was not “definitive proof that it was written by Rusesabagina personally”. Rusesabagina also claimed that after the “Hotel Rwanda” movie, people assumed him to be a millionaire and solicited all sorts of financing. “The money I sent was for different reasons, some of it was for humanitarian purposes,” Rusesabagina said.
Defense also pleaded that Rusesabagina was sick, that he posed no flight risk as prosecution had all his travel documents. They said he would be willing to abide by any court restrictions if granted bail. Rusesabagina, speaking on his bail hearing said that he would not flee if it was granted. “Like my lawyers have said, I am sick. In the past two weeks, I have been to hospital three times. I request to be given bail and I assure Court that I will not flee from justice,” he said.
Prosecution strongly opposed bail and indicated that it would present more proof from testimonies of victims of the attack to autopsy reports. It also had testimonies of 82 children that were forcefully recruited into FLN, MRCD’s military wing. Crucially, given the nature of charges and the fact that he had evaded justice for so long, they argued that he would do so (try to evade justice) again if given the chance. On the defense proposal of a cash surety Prosecution asked, “How do you determine the amount worth the value of people who lost their lives for instance?”
After hearing both submissions, the Judge adjourned proceedings to Thursday, 17 this month, when Court will pronounce it’s ruling on the pre-trial detention hearing.
The Rwandan Investigation Bureau, which announced the arrest of Rusesabagina, handed his case over to Prosecution on last week on 9th after completing its investigations.
Paul Rusesabagina was the subject of an international arrest warrant following several armed attacks killing civilians and destroying property in Southern Rwanda. His organization MRCD-FLN claimed responsibility for an attack on unarmed civilians in Nyabimata, Nyaruguru District in June 2018 and in Nyungwe, Nyamagabe District in December 2018. In 2019, Rusesabagina’s deputy, Callixte Nsabimana was arrested and pled guilty to terrorism and charges related to MRCD-FLN attacks.