The Hunt for Felicien Kabuga

Felicien Kabuga had mastered the trade secrets of the great American illusionist Harry Houdini. Like the American, Kabuga too had become a specialist at vanishing whenever he wanted, leaving a trail of disappointed security men, and dead bodies in his wake.

The Doctor

Felicien Kabuga had mastered the trade secrets of the great American illusionist Harry Houdini. Like the American, Kabuga too had become a specialist at vanishing whenever he wanted, leaving a trail of disappointed security men, and dead bodies in his wake.

But as he pulled Houdini’s around the world, something shifted within the organisation that was spearheading his hunt. On February 29, 2016 when Sege Brammertz was appointed by the United Nations Security Council to serve as Prosecutor of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, Kabuga had been appearing and disappearing at will for 22 years.

Dr Brammertz had served more than a decade in senior positions charged with investigating and prosecuting grave international crimes. Prior to his current appointment, in January 2006 United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed him as Commissioner of the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a post he held until the end of 2007.

Previously, in September 2003 he was elected by the Assembly of State Parties as the first Deputy Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. In that capacity, he was in charge of establishing the Investigations Division of the Office of the Prosecutor, and initiated the first ICC investigations in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Darfur.

The blue of the United Nations was not the first time Dr Brammertz was dealing with organised crime, He had a long history of looking for the bad guys and within the Belgian judicial circles, he had quite a reputation for his relentless, near manic pursuit of cases.

He had a deep intrinsic sense of justice. The walls of his office at the Yugoslavia Tribunal were lined with a larger than life portrait of Gandhi in the organisation’s conference room, next to it a tree that blocked out some of the harsh sunlight that flooded the room at summer’s full bloom.

And he revels in his success. The walls to his office lined with more portraits of him and world leaders and individuals who have been key to some of the biggest cases he has presided over. But these big case are not the things that the doctor holds dear.

When asked about his time at the Yugoslavian Tribunal by the University of Leiden Dr Brammertz remembered how a case of subtle triumph reaffirmed the endless possibility of humanity. That eventually, no matter how long it takes, good always triumphs over evil.

In the interview, Dr Brammertz talked of a case during which the victim testified how her husband and her brother were taken away to be executed by Bosnian Serb forces. For 22 years she had not heard anything from them

“At the end of her testimony, when the presiding judge said, well do you want to say something? She said, well can I ask a question to the accused? And, she looked at the accused and said, well please tell me. Where is my husband and where is my son? And the accused after a few moments of reflection said, well I will tell you where they are. And he gave in the court room the location where those bodies were buried with many others. It was a very strong moment where you could see that, even the perpetrator, who was convicted, had this moment of humanity where he thought, well, I will help this woman in this specific situation.”

Dr Brammertz is manic with his cases. During his time at the Yugoslav tribunal, more than 4,000 witnesses testified in the court room. Some ten million pages’ worth of documents related to the Balkan conflict were in the vaults along with another two million pages of transcripts.

And when he took up the position of Prosecutor at the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, he would be the same way with the Kabuga case, combing through layers upon layers of documents and going through evidence of sightings meticulously to make sure the man from Rwanda would not slip through is fingers.

With this, the stage was set. The fugitive from one of the smallest countries in Africa would consume the days and nights of the prosecutor from one of the smallest countries in Europe.

At the back of his mind, Dr Brammertz knew he was not just racing against fast-disappearing evidence, he was also racing against time. Not even death would reach Kabuga before he did. In this race, there were no draws. There could only be one winner. Millions of Rwandans were depending on him. Millions more around the world who knew of Rwanda’s history willed him to push on.

So he adjusted his glasses — he had recently ditched the rectangular shaped rimmed ones for a classier look of a rimless pair — repositioned his neck-tie and got off to work. He had all he needed about Kabuga’s role in the conflict.

Nairobi

After a few weeks in DRC, he made his way into Nairobi where he spent two weeks putting his affairs in order. At the time he wasn’t declared a fugitive of justice yet. In Nairobi, together with a son-in-law, the two went on an investment spree in the green city under the sun.

Between the months of June and August of 1994, approximately one million Hutus fled Rwanda fearing that advancing forces of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) would orchestrate revenge attacks. When Kigali fell on July 4, hundreds were pouring through the borders of the most accommodating neighbour, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Among them, were individuals, such as Kabuga who now stands accused of having masterminded the massacre itself. But before he crossed over, he had already made prior arrangements for the rest of his family. By the time the machetes stopped killing and maiming, his wife and children had moved to Europe, away from the chaos that went on around the family patriarch.

He himself still held on to the belief that the situation would soon turnaround and swing in his favour. The Interahamwe had done their bit. Perhaps he thought that they could rise again and defend Hutu Power from the advancing RPF. When he realised this would not happen, he too slipped into DRC. This was however just part of a grand master plan.

After a few weeks in DRC, he made his way into Nairobi where he spent two weeks putting his affairs in order. At the time he wasn’t declared a fugitive of justice yet. In Nairobi, together with son-in-law Francois Ngirabatware, the two went on securing their investments.

Kabuga was used to rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty, and when he moved to Kenya, there were very few places he couldn’t access. Plus, he had the master key to open doors that would ordinarily be shut to many people. His vast wealth accumulated over decades of trade and dominance within the Rwandan economy afforded him the luxury of an all access pass in a country in the grip of a corrupt regime.

He moved and transacted business as he wished, nonchalantly ignoring the few eyebrows that were raised. But as he did this, death, destruction, broken relationships, suspicion and a government ill at ease at explaining itself out of accusations of harbouring the fugitive were left in his wake. So comfortable was he that at some point, according to American investigators, he accompanied senior government officials to state functions.

Over the years, Kabuga had got into real estate in Nairobi, started a cross-border trucking business and moved a substantial amount of his money into Kenyan banks. He had also bought shares in local tea companies as well as into some prime real estate around the capital. But he knew that neither himself nor his son in law would be around much longer to oversee the business.

Between the months of June and August of 1994, approximately one million Hutus fled Rwanda fearing that advancing forces of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) would orchestrate revenge attacks. When Kigali fell on July 4, hundreds were pouring through the borders of the most accommodating neighbour, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Among them, were individuals, such as Kabuga who now stands accused of having masterminded the massacre itself. But before he crossed over, he had already made prior arrangements for the rest of his family. By the time the machetes stopped killing and maiming, his wife and children had moved to Europe, away from the chaos that went on around the family patriarch.

He himself still held on to the belief that the situation would soon turnaround and swing in his favour. The Interahamwe had done their bit. Perhaps he thought that they could rise again and defend Hutu Power from the advancing RPF. When he realised this would not happen, he too slipped into DRC. This was however just part of a grand master plan.

After a few weeks in DRC, he made his way into Nairobi where he spent two weeks putting his affairs in order. At the time he wasn’t declared a fugitive of justice yet. In Nairobi, together with son-in-law Francois Ngirabatware, the two went on securing their investments.

Kabuga was used to rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty, and when he moved to Kenya, there were very few places he couldn’t access. Plus, he had the master key to open doors that would ordinarily be shut to many people. His vast wealth accumulated over decades of trade and dominance within the Rwandan economy afforded him the luxury of an all access pass in a country in the grip of a corrupt regime.

He moved and transacted business as he wished, nonchalantly ignoring the few eyebrows that were raised. But as he did this, death, destruction, broken relationships, suspicion and a government ill at ease at explaining itself out of accusations of harbouring the fugitive were left in his wake. So comfortable was he that at some point, according to American investigators, he accompanied senior government officials to state functions.

Over the years, Kabuga had got into real estate in Nairobi, started a cross-border trucking business and moved a substantial amount of his money into Kenyan banks. He had also bought shares in local tea companies as well as into some prime real estate around the capital. But he knew that neither himself nor his son in law would be around much longer to oversee the business.

After preliminary agreements had been reached, father and son-in- law proceeded to Europe. Kabuga to Switzerland under an assumed identity and Ndikumana to Belgium where his wife — Kabuga’s daughter — had already settled into a new life.

The East African Road network. While on the run, Kabuga extensively used road transport to move across porous regional borders.

Catch me if you can

August of 1998 was a terrible month for Kenyans. 224 people https://media.shorthand.com/media/organisations/u1BRRTDZj6/UaxDBhIRxL/131005210755-01-1998-embassy-bombings-horizontal-large-gallery-980×552.jpeglost their lives during the bombing of the US Embassy that was later claimed by the Osama Bin Laden led Al Qaeda network. The attack became the latest of many acts of terror that have plagued the country since.

Globally, it was also the month that the Monica Lewinsky scandal threatened to bring down the Clinton administration. The August 24 cover of Time Magazine had a black and white portrait of the 42nd president of the United States captioned ‘Truth and Consequence.’

For Kabuga though, it was a different kind of truth and a different set of consequences that unsettled him.

On Saturday August 29, 1998 the prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Carla Del Ponte, indicted Kabuga of war crimes. The move by the Arusha based ICTR changed Kabuga’s status overnight.

The ICTR was established by the UN to prosecute persons responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of Rwanda and neighbouring States, between January 1 and December 31, 1994.

Immediately after the announcement, states he had been regularly flying in and out of for business or pleasure declared him unwanted. And he knew soon, even Kenya, a signatory to many UN statutes would be under pressure to hand him over to other powers. Thus began an intricate cat and mouse game that resulted in a decades-long chase.

The first thing he did was make sure his business empire would run even in his absence.

Together with his son-in-law, the two went out searching for a plausible front to the old man’s business empire. Constantin Ndikumana, who had been living in Nairobi for about five years, fit the bill almost too perfectly. It was easy.

Ngirabatware had had previous dealings with Ndikumana.

And over the next two weeks following the indictment, the two brought their Burundian friend up to speed. The portfolio he was to manage was large. The fleet of trucks, the agricultural interests, the real estate as well as money in the bank.

After preliminary agreements had been reached, father and son-in- law proceeded to Europe. Kabuga to Switzerland under an assumed identity and Ndikumana to Belgium where his wife — Kabuga’s daughter — had already settled into a new life.

Switzerland was cold to him, and it wasn’t just the weather. The authorities had no time for a fugitive. With threats of an arrest looming, he moved further north to Norway. But Europe, at the time, no longer offered the protection he craved.

In the months that followed his indictment, Kabuga found himself, once again, in the familiar territory of Nairobi through what the United Nations termed as ‘networks embedded in friendly countries.’ So did Ngirabatware. Their fate, it seemed would forever be tied to Nairobi.

But Nairobi had other plans. Well, at least part of it.

A renewed vigour was blowing through the ICTR. Information supplied by a section of Kenya’s intelligence service as well as Interpol and investigators from the ICTR confirmed that Kabuga was indeed in the country and being accorded what could almost qualify as state protection.

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