A new law that amends the country’s code of criminal procedure will boost the government’s fight on corruption, as it gives the Office of the Ombudsman more powers to investigate crimes.
It will also provide for plea bargain, for those willing to provide authentic information that may be useful in curbing corruption related crime, by offering such people lesser punishment in exchange of the information.
Under a draft code of criminal procedure, which the Lower Chamber of Parliament passed on Friday last week, the Office of the Ombudsman has been given the right to apply for a permission from the Prosecutor General in order to intercept exchanges made by suspects through different communication means.
On top of national security matters, which were subject to communications interception during crime investigations by security organs such as the police, the intelligence services, or the Rwanda Defence Force, the Ombudsman’s office has now been given rights to intercept communication in order to investigate crimes related to corruption and embezzlement.
Amendments made to the country’s code of criminal procedure now mean that things like phone tapping or reading private emails or letters sent through the post office among other means will be conducted to gather incriminating information about corruption suspects.
Before the amendment, only issues to do with national security were eligible for the permission to intercept private communications of suspects.
The state minister for Constitutional and Legal affairs, Evode Uwizeyimana, told The New Times on Friday that the amendment now means five institutions in Rwanda can intercept private messages, including the Rwanda National Police, the Rwanda Defence Force, the National Intelligence and Security Service, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB).
“We now have five institutions that can apply for the permission to intercept communications of suspects in line with their responsibilities,” he said.
Article 38 of the draft law relating to the code of criminal procedure passed on Friday states that authorities of state security organs specified by the Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda, Office of the Ombudsman and Rwanda Investigation Bureau may listen, understand and audio or video record documents, internet, discussions, telegram, postal cards, high tech communication and any other mode of communication on offenses provided for under the law.
The authorities will be capturing suspects’ communications after getting a written authorisation issued by the Prosecutor General or Deputy Prosecutor General in case of absence of the Prosecutor General.
They will be given the permission to intercept the messages during investigations and prosecutions for purposes of ascertaining the truth on commission of offenses against national security, offenses of corruption and offenses of embezzlement of State property.
Apart from the inclusion of corruption and embezzlement suspects as subjects to the right to intercept communications by prosecution authorities, another change made in the law that might boost the war on corruption is plea bargaining.
Under article 26 of the draft law passed on Friday, at the end of the suspect’s interrogation, the prosecutor may propose a plea bargaining agreement whereby the suspect helps the prosecutor to obtain all the necessary information in the prosecution of the offence and to know other persons involved in the commission of the offence.
The suspect cooperates to give information to prosecutors in return of some benefits but without hindering good administration of justice, the law says.
“The prosecutor undertakes to make concessions to the suspect in relation to charges against him or her and the penalties that he or she may request. During investigations, a suspect who enters into plea bargaining with the prosecution may be prosecuted while free,” the draft law says.
Minister Uwizeyimana said that the plea bargain mechanism will help the government fight sophisticated crimes whose ringleaders are difficult to reveal such as arms trafficking, human trafficking, drug dealing, money laundering, or cross-border car theft.
“We now have a world where organised crimes are on the increase and it doesn’t help when you sentence some convicts to life sentence. You would rather negotiate with the arrested person and minimise penalties for the suspect so they can reveal information,” he said.
The law states that in case the agreement concluded between prosecution and the suspect is admitted by the court, the latter considers the agreement on plea bargaining concluded between the public prosecution and the accused while drawing its verdict.
Other changes brought by the amendment made to the country’s code of criminal procedure include the permission to use electronic ankle monitors to control movements of crime suspects instead of detaining them in prisons.
An electronic ankle monitor or bracelet is usually worn by a criminal who has been sentenced to house arrest, has been paroled or those on probation and it can be worn before or after a person goes to trial on criminal charges.
Uwizeyimana welcomed the legal provision on the ability to use technology to track movements of criminals or crime suspects instead of detaining them.
“That’s a good improvement in our criminal justice system and it will reduce the number of people who were in prison when there was a way of being out of it during prosecution,” he said.
After final approval by Parliament on Friday, the draft law relating to the code of criminal procedure now awaits presidential assent before it can be published in the Official Gazette and start being implemented.