KIGALI - Kigali City businessman Barry Ndengeyingoma alias Ndengeye may have endured detention conditions towards the close of 2007, but at least he rang in the New Year a free man.
Ndengeye, 41, was on December 31 freed by Gasabo Higher Instance Court which ruled that he had no case to answer in Rwandan courts despite last year’s conviction by a Belgian court for what police authorities here said were money laundering, counterfeiting and forgery charges.
Presiding judge Valens Nkurunziza quashed the Prosecution’s request to detain Ndengeye for 30 days pending legal procedures between Rwanda, Belgium and Interpol.
Ndengeye (right) was thrown into a police detention on December 13 last year after Rwandan authorities received an Interpol red notice and a European arrest warrant against him after a Belgian court sentenced the tycoon to three years in prison.
Ndengeye was in Rwanda at the time Brussels Appeals Court passed the judgment a couple of months ago.
“(The court) orders that Ndengeyingoma Barry be released immediately,” the judge ruled.
The Gasabo Higher Instance Court had earlier on December 28 conducted a session during which prosecutor Bernard Alain Mukurarinda prayed court to jail Ndengeye for 30 days, saying that if released, he could escape.
Mukurarinda said that Rwanda had communicated Ndengeye’s arrest to Belgian police and that they were only waiting for their response on the way forward.
He said the response could enable exequatur procedures to start meaning that the Belgian verdict would be executed in Rwanda after the approval of the High Court. He also said that if Rwanda was not cooperative with Belgium in this case, the latter could pay in the same measure in future.
The Rwandan constitution bans extradition of a Rwandan for trial in another country.
Mukurarinda also said that Rwandan police was already investigating Ndengeye on fraud charges, and that Prosecution queried him about the same charges during an interrogation session on December 17, 2007.
However, court rejected both arguments, saying that Ndegeye had committed no crime in Rwanda, and that no criminal proceedings had been started in local judicial organs against him.
Judge Nkurunziza also said that when prosecutor Bonavanture Ruberwa interrogated Ndengeye, the former told the businessman that his arrest was only related to the Belgian case, meaning that he faced no criminal charges in Rwanda.
The judge also rejected Mukurarinda’s claim that Rwandan prosecutors had a right to take up the case, indicating that only prosecutors that followed a criminal file from its roots, were the only ones eligible to carry on with the case.
“For a person to be temporarily detained there should be convincing reasons, which in this case, the representative of the Prosecution has not provided……Similarly he (Mukurarinda) has not given the charges for which Ndengeyingoma stands to be accused…..,” the judge ruled.
The Prosecution also charged that Ndengeye is accused of using different names, indicating that in one case he called himself Leon Habyarimana, and in the other Barry Ndengeyingoma.
On this, defence lawyers rebutted saying that Belgian authorities are themselves responsible for the inconsistence in their client’s identity.
The court also heard that Belgian police sent letters to 13 countries asking them whether Ndengeye was not wanted for criminal activities because the tycoon had been found with passports of people from those nations during a house search.
The New Times could not readily establish the names of the countries in question.
Ndengeyingoma’s counsels Jean Bosco Kazungu and Mbaga Tuzinde, who had all along insisted that their client was being detained illegally, hit back on this issue saying that the passports belonged to one Andre Ntakaburimvano.
The two lawyers wondered why the Prosecution argued that Ndengeye could escape justice, while at the same time agreeing that the accused would be let to travel by himself to Brussels to sort out the court issue.
Meanwhile, Mbaga said yesterday that Ndengeye had already challenged the Belgian court decision, and requested for a re-trial. Ndengeye is due to travel to Belgium on January 14.
It was not possible by press time to get a comment from Ndengeye himself but his Belgian fiancée Samia said yesterday: “He was set free because in the first place he has no case here (in Rwanda).” “What happened is only ‘condemnation by default’ in Belgium,” she added in reference to the Brussels trial which was conducted in her fiance’s absence.
Following his release, Ndengeye has been spotted cruising through Kigali streets in his Hummer. The tycoon, who says he returned home from Europe to make investments, also owns a limousine and several business units including Rubavu-based Palm Beach Hotel and B-Club, a new state-of-the-art discotheque in Nyarutarama, Kigali.
Asked whether the Prosecution would appeal the court’s decision to the High Court, the Spokesman of the Prosecution, Bosco Mutangana, said: “What should be clear is that he was not acquitted because the trial was conducted from Belgium. However, the Prosecution has to abide by the decision of the court pending…..”
He said the Belgian police was yet to respond to an earlier communication about Ndengeye’s arrest.