A Randburg magistrate has effectively instructed the South African government to extradite four Rwandans suspected of murdering Rwandan dissident Colonel Patrick Karegeya in a Sandton hotel in 2014.
Magistrate Mashiane Mathopa on Monday ordered the police to explain what steps they had taken to arrest the suspects, whose names and passport numbers they already know.
Mathopa’s order is bound to further strain already tense relations between South Africa and Rwanda as the magistrate also made clear that South Africa suspects the Rwandan government dispatched the four men to South Africa to kill Karegeya. He was found dead in a room in the plush Michelangelo Hotel on New Year’s Day 2014.
Police believe he was strangled to death by the four men the day before and that they fled back to Rwanda on the morning of January 1.
Karegeya had been a close friend of Rwandan President Paul Kagame and served as head of Rwanda’s external intelligence service. But he fell out with Kagame and fled to South Africa in 2007, helping to establish a political party in opposition to Kagame in 2010.
The Randburg Magistrate’s Court heard on Monday that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) believed that “close links exist between the suspects and the current Rwandan government”.
Last week an inquest into the death of Karegeya was to have started in the same Randburg court more than five years after his murder.
But former public prosecutor and advocate Gerrie Nel, now with AfriForum, asked Mathopa to call off the inquest because he said it was unnecessary.
Nel, representing Karegeya’s family, argued that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) already knew everything that an inquest would reveal about Karegeya’s death. It knew the name of the deceased, where he had died and when he had died. It knew how he had died and it had the full names and details of his four suspected murderers.
Nel said the NPA should already have prosecuted the four suspects. He said the fact that they hadn’t done so five years later suggested political meddling and abuse of legal process.
On Monday Mathopa agreed with Nel and stopped the inquest, because he said that the South African authorities had not conducted a thorough enough investigation of the case.
“For the proper administration of justice and to instil confidence, the inquest must be so thorough that the public and the interested parties are satisfied that there has been a full and fair investigation into the circumstances of death…” Mathopa said.
It was clear “that the inquest is not enjoying public confidence”.
An inquest should only be held after a thorough investigation of the death had been conducted. It would be premature to hold an inquest into Karegeya’s death in the light of outstanding vital statements and information.
The major gap appeared to be the absence of any evidence that the police or NPA had tried to arrest the four suspects. Mathopa referred to a “letter which is of vital importance” which the DPP had written on 5 June 2018 to the Office of the Commander of the Directorate for Priority Crimes at the SAPS.
In the letter, the DPP wrote that he had decided not to prosecute the four suspects at that stage. He said they appeared to have returned to Rwanda in 2014.
“Furthermore, close links exist between the suspects and the Rwanda government.
“There is no extradition treaty between RSA and Rwanda,” the DPP continued, noting that Rwanda was also not a member of the Southern African Development Community (which has its own extradition agreement among members).
This letter seemed to indicate that the DPP had declined to prosecute the four suspects because he believed the Rwandan government would not extradite them to South Africa to stand trial, as it was implicated in the murder.
Nonetheless, Mathopa said in his ruling on Monday that it was clear from this letter that the prosecution “knows who and where the suspects are, and what needs to be done”.
He then ruled that the police investigating officer in the case must state within 14 days what steps had been taken to arrest the Rwandan suspects since their whereabouts and their identities were known.
Mathopa also implicitly criticised the police and NPA for the five-year delay in dealing with the murder of Karegeya , saying that “justice delayed is justice denied”.
“This is a very positive ruling,” Nel said afterwards. “The NPA’s institution of a judicial inquest was, in this case, an abuse of legal proceedings, which was used to attempt to cover up an inexplicable delay in the case. We will monitor the developments of this case closely to ensure that justice is done.”
AfriForum said the case had been a victory for it and the justice system.
Nel said the next step should be for South Africa to ask Rwanda to extradite the four men. If the Rwandan government refused, South Africa could then issue an international arrest warrant.
This meant that if they travelled to any country with which South Africa did have an extradition treaty, they could be arrested and sent to South Africa to stand trial.
If Rwanda did refuse to extradite them, it was likely that the planned inquest could proceed, with everyone then comfortable in the knowledge that the South African authorities had done what they could to bring the four suspects to trial. DM
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