South African authorities have been accused of trying to “cover up” the “political assassination” of Rwanda’s former intelligence chief Colonel Patrick Karegeya in a Sandton hotel over five years ago.
AfriForum advocate Gerrie Nel asked a Randburg magistrate on Wednesday to stop the judicial inquest into Karegeya’s death. Nel said the police and the National Prosecuting Authority had been sitting on enough evidence to prosecute Karegeya’s suspected killers for five years but had “inexplicably” not done so.
Nel, a former star public prosecutor, is representing Karegeya’s family and other Rwandan exiles in this case. He suggested the inquest was a delaying tactic to avoid prosecuting the four Rwandans suspected of strangling Karegeya.
The long-delayed inquest was supposed to start on Wednesday. But before it could get underway, Nel asked Magistrate Jeremiah Matopa to cancel the inquest so the four murder suspects, all Rwandans, could be prosecuted immediately and extradited. They are believed to be in Rwanda.
He said the inquest was superfluous because the police had known, for the past five years, everything that an inquest was supposed to establish. They knew who was killed, how he was killed, when he was killed and by whom, Nel said, naming the four suspects. Karegeya, a former close confidante of Rwandan President Paul Kagame and head of intelligence, fell out with Kagame in 2007 and fled Rwanda.
Nel questioned why the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions for Gauteng Gerard Roberts had ordered on June 5 2018 that there should be no prosecution of the suspects in Karegeya’s murder, when police had enough evidence to prosecute them.
Instead, Roberts ordered that an inquest should be held.
Nel said: “We, however, regard this judicial inquest as an abuse of legal proceedings, as well as the ‘cover-up’ of an abhorrent crime, which resulted from the NPA’s unwillingness or prohibition to prosecute and/or to direct an in-depth and proficient investigation. A judicial inquest is not the suitable legal route in this case and the NPA’s decision (not to prosecute) is inexplicable based on the contents of the docket.”
Nel described Karegeya’s murder as an “assassination… intricately linked to the political situation in Rwanda”. The South African government should never allow South Africa to be used by assassins to hunt down and terminate targets, he said.
Karegeya was found strangled to death in the Michelangelo Hotel on 1 January, 2014. Police believe had been murdered the day before.
“According to the police docket, Karegeya visited a former colleague and friend in the relevant hotel,” AfriForum said.
“After the death of Karegeya, three Rwandan men (including the friend) left South Africa within hours. There are allegations that the Rwandan embassy picked up some of them outside the hotel and flew them to Rwanda.”
Nel told the court that having failed to institute a prosecution for five years, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had decided instead in October 2018 to submit the matter to the magistrate for an inquest to be held into the death of Karegeya.
“We submit that this is an abuse of process as this matter was not properly investigated and definitely not investigated with a view of arresting and prosecuting the people responsible for the blatant criminal conduct.
“This is a cover-up to disguise an inability to and/ or prohibition to deal with an assassination,” Nel said, adding that the delay of five years led to “the irresistible inference of political meddling or a prohibition to proficiently investigate the identified perpetrators”.
Though Nel did not say this, the decision by the NPA not to prosecute those suspected of killing Karegeya, happened on June 5, 2018, just three months after President Cyril Ramaphosa and Kagame, after meeting in Kigali, had announced that they had instructed their foreign ministers to patch up relations between the two country.
Relations have been strained ever since 2014 when Pretoria expelled three diplomats from the Rwandan High Commission after the fourth attempt on the life of Karegeya’s friend, Kagame’s former chief of staff General Nyamwasa Kayumba, who also fell out with him and fled to South Africa in 2010.
Nel said that a judicial inquest was supposed to establish who had died, how he had died, when he had died and who was responsible.
But the investigating officers had already known the answers to these four questions in January 2014, he said. They knew the deceased was Patrick Karegeya, the death was “consistent with feature of ligature strangulation”, that he had died on 31 December 2013; that “the death was brought about by the acts prima facie amounting to an offence committed by i) Appollo Ismael Kiririsi (@Ismael Gafaranga, @David Habonimana); ii) Alex Sugira; iii) Samuel Niyoyita; iv) Nshizrungu Vianney”.
Nel said chief investigating officer KA Ndlala also had dates of birth and passport numbers of the four suspects which showed all were Rwandan. Ndlala had stated that all four had left for Rwanda on 1 January, 2014 (the day after the murder).
Nel added that police already had almost all the evidence they need to prosecute by January 2014. They collected their last statement of a witness – excluding statements from police officers in the investigating team – in April 2015. This was to confirm testimony given earlier.
“Inexplicably there is no indication that any steps were taken to trace the suspects,” Nel said.”There was no contact with Interpol or any other International law enforcement agency. There was no attempt to obtain any evidence by means of a request for legal assistance and there were no attempts to extradite the suspects.
“The prosecutor that decided not to institute prosecution was never privy to any motive for this killing. Known witnesses who could undoubtedly identify Apollo and indicate what the motive could be, were never approached,” Nel said, adding that one of these potential witnesses was Kayumba who had seen Karegeya the day before he was killed and had spoken to him on the day he died.
Karegeya’s family has told journalists that Apollo was a businessman and trusted friend of Karegeya who often visited him on his trips to South Africa. They believe Apollo was persuaded or intimidated by the Rwandan government join a conspiracy to murder him, including by letting the three suspects into the Michelangelo Hotel room to strangle him with a curtain cord.
Nel further questioned the police’s motives for wanting an inquest when he said that in a meeting with the prosecutor and attorney of Karegeya’s family, the investigating officer had said police needed the inquest finding to apply for the extradition of the suspects.
“The investigating officer regards the inquest process as a stepping stone for them to proceed with their constitutional obligation,” Nel said.
Whereas this was not, in fact, necessary, as it was well known and internationally accepted law enforcement practice for investigators to seek the cooperation of other agencies if suspects were outside of South Africa’s jurisdiction.
The chief prosecutor of the inquest, Yusuf Baba, opposed Nel’s application to have the inquest cancelled. He said the court had no authority to overrule the decision by the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions not to proceed with a prosecution and instead to order an inquest.
Magistrate Matopa adjourned the court until Monday when he would give his decision on Nel’s application to stop the inquest.
Nel told journalists afterwards that he has taken up this case because of his belief in equality before the law. South Africa’s legal system had failed the victims of this crime, as there were no attempts to find and arrest any of the known suspects.
He would not be drawn on whether the NPA’s decision in June 2018 was linked to the decision by Ramaphosa to restore relations with Rwanda. But he said they were clearly trying to cover up something.
Karegeya’s widow Leah, who had come out from the US where she now lives to observe the inquest, his nephew David Batenga, Kayumba’s wife Rosette and other members of the families of the two former comrades, as well as other members of the Rwandan expatriate community, were in the Randburg magistrate’s court on Wednesday.
Many were sporting bright yellow T-shirts blazoned with photographs of Karegeya and slogans such as “We Demand the Truth”.
Leah Karegeya said afterwards: “The government which did this is still meddling, the government of Rwanda is still delaying this.”
She indicated that it did not matter to her which came first, the inquest or a trial, so long as justice was done. DM
"God save us from people who mean well." ~ Vikram Seth