A magistrate in Norwich Crown Court in the United Kingdom on Friday sentenced Rene Mugenzi, a Rwandan so-called opposition activist, to 27 months in prison after he was convicted for stealing £220,000 (approximately Rwf279m).
Mugenzi siphoned money from the bank account belonging to St John the Baptist Cathedral, a Catholic Church, and diverted it to his own account between March 2016 and May 2018.
At the time, he worked as a treasurer to the church, where he ostensibly worked as a volunteer.
The judge dismissed pleas by Mugenzi and his solicitor that he is given a suspended sentence and she instead sentenced him to 27 months to be fully served in prison.
Reading the verdict, Judge Katharine Moore said Mugenzi had “grossly abused trust placed in him,” according to a UK newspaper, Eastern Daily Press.
It emerged during the court proceeding that he wasted the money in gambling.
The same newspaper reported that Mugenzi had fought to keep the story out of the media since he first appeared in court in July, claiming that his life was in danger from the Government of Rwanda.
However, the newspaper successfully challenged this, and got a greenlight to report about the case on the eve of the sentencing.
This was based on reports in 2011 that he had been designated as “being in danger,” basing on fictitious reports he fed to UK Met Police at the time, according to new details that have emerged.
At the time, the Government of Rwanda responded, saying that they had no reason to harm Mugenzi and had not been contacted over the same matter by their UK counterparts.
According to accounts by different sources in the UK, Mugenzi came up with the ruse to seek protection for his life, apparently not from the Rwandan government, but from the many creditors.
“At that particular time, he was being hunted by some Kurdish people in London whom he had fleeced £50,000 (Rwf63m). This is the time he fled London and came up with a lie that he was being hunted by the Rwandan government,” said a member of the Rwandan community in UK.
This was corroborated by Lenard Rukundo, another Rwandan living in the UK who has known Mugenzi for over 20 years.
“It was the only way to get protection. He has taken a lot of money from people, especially Rwandans. So he got to an extent of threatening to report whomever demanded their money to Home Office,” said Rukundo.
According to Rukundo, Mugenzi for many years helped a lot of Rwandans to resettle in the UK and whoever he helped, he kept their details.
Because he was a bad creditor, he had been blacklisted by banks and was therefore not eligible for a bank loan.
“He then started going to the same people – because they felt indebted to him – and would ask them to get loans on his behalf with promise they would pay back. He never did,” said Rukundo, who said that he had himself been a victim.
Rukundo, who relocated in the UK in 2000 with the support of Mugenzi, acquired a loan worth £4500 on his behalf and has since given up on trying to get his money back.
“He came to me with the proposal when he was getting married; I have since given up on it,” said Rukundo.
He said he does not know if Mugenzi helped people with a plan in mind to eventually blackmail them, but said that almost everyone he helped was threatened into silence because he knew all their details.
“He is very manipulative; he would tell people that he will report them to Home Office and get them deported if they cause trouble with him. That is why many he owe have chosen to keep quiet and suffer in silence,” Rukundo said.
A perfect cover
According to different Rwandans who spoke to The New Times, Mugenzi has successfully used the cover of political activism to fend off his creditors.
“What is interesting is that among his victims, are his fellow so-called Rwandans in opposition. He stands for nothing. I am told that even his wife has left him because of his shenanigans,” said another source, who preferred to remain anonymous.
According to Rukundo, Mugenzi is a shrewd man, who had connections to many UK charity organisations.
He would get details of Rwandan asylum seekers to get money on their behalf from these organisations, which he ended up keeping.
“No one dared challenge him on his fraud; he would either threaten to get you deported on claims of immigration fraud or frame you as a hired assassin sent by the Government of Rwanda.”
Rukundo said that it was easy for Mugenzi to mislead the Met Police in the UK into believing that he was in imminent danger.
“All you have to do is to buy sim-cards (they are not registered) which you then use to call or send threatening messages to your number, then take that to police to show that you are in danger; tens of thousands of people get such caution in their favour,” said Rukundo.
He added: “Mugenzi has not at any time behaved as someone whose life is in danger; he socialises, goes to bars, and always posts on social media everything about his life including his home. The only people he was running away from are his creditors.”
Mugenzi has also previously made claims that he is a Genocide survivor, yet on several occasions he has appeared in the media and on other platforms denying the existence of the same Genocide he claims to have survived.
His father, Joseph Mugenzi, who lives in The Netherlands, is an indicted Genocide fugitive, indicted by the Rwandan prosecution.Follow https://twitter.com/kimenyif