A journey through the murky business world of Tribert Rujugiro

A Sunday edition of one of the dailies in Uganda on March 17, 2019, carried a story under the title; “Rwandan Tycoon speaks out on Museveni, Kagame”.

In the interview, Tribert Rujugiro, the interviewee, claimed that he has no interest in politics and that if he opted to help rebels fighting Kagame; “it would take less than six months to defeat him”.

To someone reading about Rujugiro’s claims for the first time, you would think that the 78-year-old Rwandan has not been working heartlessly to overthrow a democratically elected government in Rwanda.

To the contrary, since the creation of the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) in 2010, Rujugiro has been its chief financier, providing support to the terror organisation.

He has provided his cash up to the point when he realized that RNC is not capable of removing the democratically elected government in Kigali which prompted him to seek guarantees.

It is no secret that at one time, Rujugiro was bitter with RNC’s lack of progress and threatened to cease his finance until they demonstrated the capability of causing damage to Rwanda Defence Force.

One RNC defector later disclosed that to please the financier and keep the cash flowing, the terror group orchestrated the grenade attacks in Kigali between 2010-2013 as proof of ability to cause damage.

To better understand how Rujugiro operates, one needs to analyse his track record in the region and beyond.

While in Burundi as a refugee in the 70s and 80s, Rujugiro formed a cartel with former President, Jean Baptiste Bagaza, the then Ministers of Finance Albert Muganga and that of Mining, Isidore Nyaboya to lock out competition so that he could enjoy a monopoly of the cigarette market.

The long arm of the law was to catch up with him.

He was arrested and sent to jail for his financial crimes that included money laundering, smuggling and tax evasion.

While in jail, it is believed Rujugiro conspired with an army officer, poisoned the guards, and the two fled to South Africa, where the army officer soon died in a mysterious accident, a case that remains unsolved.

After relocating to South Africa, Rujugiro proceeded to conduct his business in a shoddy manner again landing him in trouble.

While on a trip in London, Rujugiro was, in 2009, arrested following an arrest warrant issued by the South African prosecution office over tax evasion.

He faced 25 counts of fraud relating to non-payment of excise duties, 25 charges of illegally exporting goods from the Customs and Excise warehouse, six charges relating to the non-payment of Value Added Tax, and a charge of irregular dealing in goods.

Rujugiro pleaded guilty and agreed to pay 55 million Rands in tax penalties.

It is worth noting that Rujugiro’s financing of negative forces in the region, let alone in Rwanda, is not something new, but he has never succeeded.

A case in point is the final report of the United Nations Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo dated December 12, 2008 which pinned Rujugiro for financing le Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP) in DRC.

The report indicated that Rujugiro offered his farm located in Kilolirwe, Masisi territory, to be the CNDP military operational base. The same farm was also used as a meeting place between Rujugiro and CNDP leaders.

In addition, an email dated August 28, 2007 by Rujugiro to one Eric Mutambuka, exposed how the former instructed the latter to release 120,000 USD to finance CNDP operations.

His business operations were later to extend to West Africa.

In 2010, it was reported that Rujugiro had landed in hot waters with the Nigerian government after flouting a tax and investment concessions.

He had been granted a three-year 60 percent tax waiver to allow his cigarette brand - YES - get a firm footing before building a $ 57 million factory.

Six years later, there was nothing.

This prompted the Nigerian government to withdraw the concessions granted to Rujugiro arguing that the businessman was enriching himself at the expense of Nigerian taxpayers.

It appears in Uganda he has found the right climate to operate his shady business and uses connections to get away with it.

Rujugiro was widely talked about when a local newspaper revealed that he had signed a business venture with President Museveni’s young brother, Gen. Saleh Akandwanaho worth millions of dollars.

In the agreement, Gen. Saleh Akandwanaho was given 15% shares in Rujugiro’s tobacco company while Gen Saleh agreed to protect Rujugiro’s assets in Uganda and in the region.

With his ill-gotten wealth, Rujugiro traverses the region with high-level protection provided to him by President Museveni and Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza.

Using tricks of bribing leaders, Rujugiro showered the Burundian leadership with free gifts of shares in his tobacco and cement business in exchange for a safe haven for his anti-Rwanda activities.

It is an open secret that he bankrolled CNDD-FDD, Burundi’s ruling party during the controversial elections held in 2015 with cash and forty (40) brand new pick-ups for use in the campaigns.

While he worked openly to support Nkurunziza and his hitmen, thousands of innocent Burundians were killed and over 400,000 Burundians sought refuge in neighbouring countries, including around 100,000 in Rwanda.

Whereas the Uganda Sunday paper offered Rujugiro the platform to deny his involvement with dissidents or using his wealth to finance elements hostile to Rwanda, evidence points to the contrary.

In 2017, Rujugiro paid $440,000 to the Washington Based Podesta Inc., a lobbying firm.

The intention was to buy access to the U.S. Congress where David Himbara, another dissident and Rujugiro’s advisor, would testify against Kigali with the aim of tainting the image of Rwanda.

After the hearing in the American Congress, Podesta Inc. also tried to secure a similar hearing in the Canadian parliament but failed after the Rwandan diaspora in Canada protested.

Indeed, President Museveni’s letter to President Paul Kagame dated March 10, 2019, which appeared in various media outlets on March 19, 2019, acknowledges state protection of Rujugiro’s businesses in Uganda, in addition to the audience he granted him.

While the Ugandan newspaper attempted to portray a clean image of Rujugiro, there is no amount of lobbying that can whiteout his criminal record...

Probably the new normal of ‘deny, deny, deny’, and acting ‘accidentally’ is the New Vision’s interview with Rujugiro, which is quite comical.

As the Kinyarwanda saying goes “ukuri guca mu ziko ntigushye!” (truth is stubborn).