Félicien Kabuga, arrested on Saturday in a Paris suburb, emerged from poverty to become one of the richest men in Rwanda before using his wealth to finance the country’s genocide in 1994.
Kabuga’s money and connections also helped him avoid being arrested for more than 20 years as he left Rwanda for Switzerland, the former Zaire and Kenya.
Accused by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) of “genocide”, “complicity in genocide” and “direct and public incitement to commit genocide”, Kabuga, 84, lived under a false identity outside of Paris and his relatives said he was dead.
He was one of the most wanted fugitives in the world and often named as the person who financed three months of Rwandan massacres from April to June 1994 in which 800,000 people were killed.
Kabuga’s parents were modest farmers, and his first jobs were selling home goods and selling cigarettes and used clothing in a market in his native region of Byumba, in northern Rwanda.
Hard worker and determined, Kabuga then moved to Kigali where he opened several stores.
One of the richest men in Rwanda
According to the French press, he owned a tea plantation, a mill and real estate, including apartments and warehouses.
In 1994, he was considered one of the richest men in Rwanda and if farmers in remote villages saved money, they were often nicknamed “Kabuga”.
In 1993, one of her daughters married the eldest son of Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana, whose assassination sparked the 1994 genocide of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Another girl married Augustin Ngirabatware, the country’s planning minister, sentenced to 30 years in prison for his role in the bloodbath.
Kabuga has also been charged by the ICTR with two lesser but linked genocide charges.
He was the head of the National Defense Fund, to which he and other businessmen contributed, and who allegedly bought machetes and uniforms for the army and the Hutu Interahamwe militia.
“In his position of authority, Félicien Kabuga between April and June 1994 contributed to the murder and the prejudice of the interahamwe of people identified as Tutsis by organizing meetings … to raise funds to buy weapons”, indicates the act indictment of the ICTR.
Jean Damascene Bizimana, executive secretary of the National Commission to Combat Genocide, told AFP that Kabuga had financed “tons of machetes and grenades which were imported and distributed across the country in the form of weapons” .
Many victims were killed with machetes.
Radio calls for murder
In addition, Kabuga helped create the famous Radio Television of the Thousand Hills (RTLM) which incited people to commit murders on its broadcasts.
“Kabuga was president of RTLM and as such exercised de facto and de jure control over RTLM’s programming, operations and finances,” according to the indictment.
He is also accused of having directly supervised the Interahamwe massacres in Gisenyi, in north-west Rwanda, and in the Kigali district of Kimironko.
In July 1994, Kabuga sought refuge in Switzerland but was expelled a month later.
He flew to Kinshasa and then went to Kenya, where he managed to avoid three attempts at arrest by police and ICTR officials after the issuance of an arrest warrant in 1997.
The United States offered a $ 5 million reward in 2002 for the information leading to his arrest and funded a media campaign in Kenya that spattered his photo across the country.
In 2011, the ICTR organized forums to collect testimony on the possible trial of Kabuga, in the event that certain witnesses died before his arrest.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)