Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa, the Rwandan businessman named in the United Nations experts report on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) finally broke his silence, distancing himself from what he termed as ‘out of context and baseless allegations’ by the UN Report released on December 12.
In a 5 page response availed to The New Times, Rujugiro strongly contested the claims in the report that he is among the ‘Individual Financiers of the CNDP’ of General Laurent Nkunda as alleged, challenging the world body and anyone to provide proof in support of the allegations.
Nkunda heads the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) which has been fighting the DRC government.
Rujugiro, one of the leading investors in the country, accused the authors of the report of relying on innuendos, rumours and hearsay which they could not verify or authenticate before including them in a final report.
“I categorically deny that I am directly or indirectly involved with the CNDP as suggested by the report or that I provide financial assistance to the CNDP and I strongly contest the veracity of any testimony which would sustain the version that I play a role in CNDP financing,” said Rujugiro in a statement, calling upon the UN Security Council to instruct the Group of Experts to verify and prove the allegations, which have since damaged his reputation.
The tycoon also challenged the UN to give him an opportunity to present his side of the story rather than relying on a one-sided story as presented by the Report.
‘If put in a contradictory debate, I would without any doubt take the edge of these testimonies which are presently (for me) anonymous and not substantiated by any factual details,” argues Rujugiro.
He also denied the claims by the report that he maintains close contact with the rebel group waging a rebellion in the Eastern part of DRC through regular arranged meetings with the CNDP top leadership including Laurent Nkunda at his two farms located in the rebel controlled area of Masisi, Eastern DRC.
Rujugiro, who the report alleges to provide a link between the Rwandan Government and the rebels also dismissed claims that he is always at the farms he acquired in the early 80’s where he meets the rebels, arguing that inspecting his farms cannot be an issue since he owns them.
He however says that he last visited the farms in 2006 and that unlike the report claims, has only met Nkunda once at a social event through a business acquaintance who is apparently Nkunda’s bother in-law.
On the Masisi farms, Rujugiro says he acquired them at the time when DRC was still known as Zaire and by coincidence, his land falls under the rebel controlled area of North Kivu Province and they have since established a military base on it, something which is beyond his control.
“The CNDP does not seek permission of land owners to establish military bases in areas under their control” a defiant Rujugiro argues.
It is also alleged in the report that Rujugiro owns 650 heads of cattle worth about $400.000 and like all ranchers in the area, pays the rebels to protect his livestock, a claim the businessman strongly denies.
He says that the cattle figures are wrong and as a matter of fact, he has since the insurgency began lost 560 heads in the territories controlled by the rebels he allegedly finances.
Among other things, the wealthy businessman distanced himself from two top ranking members of the rebellion mentioned in the report as his accomplices in coordinating their activities, though he admits that they are known to him but not as rebels but business partners a few years back.
Rujugiro says that the last contact he had with Innocent Gahizi was in 2007, when he (Gahizi) was still a member of the DRC official army and it was about securing and confirming the land rights of his Masisi farms.
Also contested are the alleged emails contained in the report that he (Rujugiro) sent to Rene Munya, saying that they are fake.
“I imagine somebody sent those emails to fake some documents in my name to dupe the Group of experts. It’s a pity that they never thought of verifying such emails, well knowing how it is easy to forge using the internet,” Rujugiro adds.
The businessman called for more investigations before the group comes up with a final report. It is not yet known whether Rujugiro will seek legal redress in the event of the UN not moving to alter the report findings which he says damage his name.
Rujugiro was first implicated in the DRC conflict in the 2001 UN Report as a major financier of rebel movements in the country as well as an exploiter of the country’s natural resources, prompting him to come out strongly, contesting the accusations.
Consequently, the UN Security Council extended the investigation panels mandate which eventually cleared him of the accusations in a final report of 2002.
Rujugiro however wonders how a new report by the Group of Experts can implicate him again on similar accusations after he was cleared by the same body.
Earlier this month, President Paul Kagame condemned the report which implicates Rwanda as a major backer of the Congolese rebels, arguing that even if Rujugiro was found to be dealing with the rebels, it is unfair and ridiculous to attribute the dealings of an individual to the state.