Uganda’s efforts to launder Rujugiro’s image will not hold

Tribert Rujugiro. / Internet photo

Uganda’s New Vision newspaper has given fugitive Rwandan businessman Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa a multi-purpose platform to launder his image; to attempt to deny involvement with a group that has declared war on Rwanda’s legitimate government; and to tarnish the leadership of Rwanda in a string of unchallenged claims and allegations.

In a question and answer newspaper interview, normally the journalist interjects with probing, insightful, researched questions as a check against a subject using a newspaper – or magazine, or other news medium – as a platform to air their misinformation. 

The interview that appeared in the Sunday Vision of 17 March, 19 – under the title “Rwandan tycoon speaks out on Museveni, Kagame – instead looks like something Rujugiro paid for, or that was planted by state actors. 

The man merely says everything that serves him (and his partners in the highest levels of the Ugandan government) to misinform the public about the true nature of his; and by extension his Kampala partners’, problems with Kigali. We shall come to that.

A good interview strives to show there are two sides to a story. In this one the Sunday Vision has thrown balance completely out the window. 

For starters, Rujugiro portrays himself as a successful businessman that only “was victimized” by a Kigali establishment that was “jealous of his success”. Or that he left Rwanda out of principle “because he could not accept the way things were going there”.

The facts are that Rujugiro left Rwanda because his business practices – the ones that have made him successful in a number of African countries including Uganda where he has a tobacco processing plant in Arua – were completely incompatible with Kigali’s anti-corruption and graft-intolerant ethic in running its state affairs. 

The record shows that wherever Rujugiro has worked and his businesses succeeded, those countries are characterized by high levels of graft. It is the kind of countries that regularly score poorly on Transparency International indices.

Rujugiro left Rwanda in 2010 after repeated issues with the administration because of his shady business practices. He did not like to pay taxes. He expected that because he had contributed to the liberation struggle he would be exempted from paying taxes. When that did not happen he became very unhappy. 

His thing was to constantly offer kickbacks to policy makers to exempt him from the rules of doing business that applied to all other businessmen and women. He found out that graft like that had no place in Rwanda. 

Rujugiro’s methods had worked well in Burundi – where he cut his teeth in the business world – and other places like Uganda where stories of monstrous scams have dogged Museveni’s rule from day one. 

He started out as a smuggler of cigarettes in Bujumbura, and then rose during the administration of Jean Baptiste Bagaza from the mid 70s to late 80s. Rujugiro corrupted a number of officials to, among other things, avoid taxes and kill competition. When Pierre Buyoya took power, he locked the Rwandan up for three years in Bujumbura central jail for the offences. 

Back home in Rwanda after the war of liberation Rujugiro soon found his corrupt practices weren’t acceptable. 

Another country where Rujugiro’s corrupt practices landed him into big trouble was South Africa. In November 2006 South African Revenue Services (SARS) officials barricaded his cigarette manufacturing company in Wilsonia, Eastern Cape amid a 57 million Rand fraud case against Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa and his senior employees. 

News reports said agents of SARS swooped on the premises of the company, Mastermind Tobacco Company, sealing all its entrances. For the complete story here is a link:

   Rujugiro, knowing SARS was on his case for his fraudulent activities had already fled SA, and couldn’t go back there. He was in Rwanda at the time. Reports are that President Kagame repeatedly advised him to clear his issues with South Africa and “to not tarnish Rwanda’s good name like that”. 

A couple of years later, on 13 October 2008 London Police (Scotland Yard) arrested the Rwandan businessman at Heathrow Airport. They acted on an Interpol red notice following an international arrest warrant put out by South Africa. 

Scotland Yard would release Rujugiro – with a leg bracelet to monitor his movements – after he agreed to pay the South African taxman US$ 7.I million in arrears. A little research by New Vision would have shown them this information, and their interviewer would ask about it. 

But journalism was not the aim of the paper’s interview. The politics of Kampala’s antagonism against Rwanda was the aim. 

When Rujugiro cleared South Africa’s taxes, albeit under duress, and London Police released him he was welcome back to Rwanda, as a citizen. But then the man was soon trying to carry on with the aforementioned fraudulence in Kigali. When Kigali instead stepped up its own investigations of his tax evasion and other illegal activities he left. 

Already matters had reached the extent where RRA was attaching a number of his properties for tax evasion – including the UTC shopping center. In his native country the government was serious about good governance, and his crooked ways were catching up with him. 

It was around 2010 that he left Rwanda, for South Africa – where he no longer feared going, having paid their tax arrears. Rujugiro left Rwanda with a vengeful heart, to fund dissidents fighting Rwanda including Kayumba Nyamwasa, boss of RNC – the rebel group that’s facilitated by President Museveni in plots to bring war back to Rwanda. 

Part of Rujugiro’s anti-Rwanda efforts is to finance RNC misinformation, such as paying one David Himbara, the rebel group’s chief propagandist that’s based in Canada. It is a matter of record that in September 2017 for instance, Rujugiro through Himbara paid the Washington DC lobby firm Podesta Inc US$ 440,000. 

The aim was to buy access to the US Congress, for Himbara to level allegations of a nature to smear and tarnish Rwanda. In the interview, Rujugiro claims, “if he funded rebels against Rwanda, it would fall in six months. But his payments to Himbara, and to US lobbyist firms show he indeed is funding RNC.

According to impeccable sources, Rujugiro, “channels through Himbara ample sums of money to go into RNC operations”. This renders his claim – that if he funded RNC the government of Rwanda would fall in six months – an idle boast.   

In the New Vision interview, Rujugiro claims his tobacco company in Arua is benefitting Ugandans. A Kigali-based observer, speaking anonymously, comments that he would advise Ugandan lawmakers to immediately investigate that company, Meridian Tobacco Company, to ascertain whether it really is paying its tax obligations to Ugandans. 

Another red flag is that Gen. Salim Saleh, President Museveni’s brother, is a shareholder, with a fifteen percent stake in Rujugiro’s company. Meridian Tobacco’s documents at the Uganda registry of companies show that. “The fact Saleh is involved already is a glaring red flag that this is a fraudulent company!” the analyst commented. 

Museveni’s brother is well known for the hundreds of crooked activities he has perpetrated, or participated in down the decades his brother has been in power. It should also be noted that in all Saleh’s crooked activities, he has done everything on behalf of Museveni. “The hand of Museveni is never absent in Saleh’s activities,” a Kampala journalist commented one time.

Rujugiro’s interview is peppered throughout with personal attacks on President Kagame. It however is a new kind of low for the Ugandan paper to allow Rujugiro drag the President’s family into a polemic they have nothing to do with.

All that cannot obscure the fact Rujugiro is in partnership with the Ugandan authorities in the mutual goal to destabilize Rwanda. It also cannot take away the fact a renowned fraudster – that happens to be the chief financier of one of the main terrorist groups against Rwanda – is running a firm that only is a front for that group, with the partnership of Ugandan government officials.




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