KIGALI - The year 2007 has been characterised by different high profile cases in the country. One of the most significant and largely publicised cases involved former banking mogul Alfred Kalisa, a co-founder of the Bank of Commerce, Development and Industry (BCDI).
Kalisa’s trial started earlier in the year after his arrest during the 2006 festive season. He was produced before court in January and charged with six counts, all to do with mismanagement of the bank, which according to prosecution, led to huge losses estimated in hundreds of millions of francs.
It is largely believed that it was the losses which the bank incurred during Kalisa’s ten-year tenure at its helm that led to its eventual sell-off to Ecobank.
During this time, Kalisa doubled as the Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the board.
The trial has been to different courts, ranging from Nyarugenge Higher Instance Court, through the High Court and most recently to the Supreme Court.
It has proved a complex case after the defendant petitioned court to summon other board members, who were subsequently summoned. Lawyers of both parties have been filing a complex of applications to different courts and most recently, they sought constitutional interpretation owing to the fact that prosecution was not willing to prosecute the board members.
The Supreme Court ruling expected by early January will determine whether the eight board members are to appear or not, before the trial in substance goes back to the Nyarugenge court.
Kalisa is detained with the bank’s former chief accountant, Eugene Rutajoga, who is charged with a single count of using falsified documents.
Another high profile trial that was handled by local courts of law was the dispute that arose within the Liberal Party (PL) after the dismissal of five senior party members.
After their dismissal which led to two of them losing their parliamentary posts, they petitioned the High Court citing illegal dismissal.
Former parliamentarians Elie Ngirabakunzi and Isaie Murashi lost the case and were replaced in the Chamber of Deputies.
However, they recently appealed the case at the Supreme Court and the hearing is expected early 2008 after the judiciary comes back from their annual month-long recess.
The courts also handled another significant and controversial trial that involved local tycoon Assinapol Rwigara, whose shoddily constructed business complex claimed lives of three people who were working on the site.
This happened after the foundation came down tumbling on the trio, after which Rwigara failed to answer court summons and chose to hide from prosecution.
It was Rwigara’s evasion landed two Rwandan generals in the hands of the judiciary on charges of obstruction of justice.
Brigadier Generals Sam Kanyemera Kaka and Frank Rusagara were arrested and later arraigned after they allegedly tried to block police officers from arresting Rwigara at a funeral that was attended by both the generals and the businessman.
Rwigara later turned himself in and they were all prosecuted, Rwigara by the Nyarugenge lower instance court while the generals were court-martialed by the military tribunal.
They were later acquitted by both courts.
The latest in court as we come to the end of 2007 is the arrest of Barry Ndengeyingoma a.k.a Ndengeye, a renowned businessman who hit the streets of Kigali this year with a fleet of expensive cars, including a Hummer and a limousine.
Ndengeye who is charged with money laundering was arrested by Rwanda National Police after they got an Interpol red notice from their Belgian counterparts.
Elsewhere in the judiciary, the office of Attorney General was created this year and it was put under the Minister of Justice, who also became the Holder of the Public Seal.
This office was, according to Justice Minister Tharsis Karugarama, created to conform to the system of the East African Community, which Rwanda joined earlier in the year.
It was also during this year that Rwanda promulgated the law abolishing death penalty from the Rwandan Penal Code, a move that earned President Paul Kagame the Abolitionist of the Year award which he received from the Italian capital of Rome.
Rwanda has also kept up her preparations to receive cases to be transferred from the soon-to-expire International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, (ICTR).
A state-of-the-art transit centre was inaugurated this year at the Kigali Central Prison. It is supposed to accommodate inmates whose trials would be on course.
It is planned that the suspects to be transferred from the UN tribunal will be detained at Mpanga Prison in the Southern Province, while their trials will be conducted on First Instance by the Kigali High Court and appeals adjudicated to the Supreme Court.
Also in the judiciary sector, the Kigali Bar Association this year sacked 40 lawyers from their ranks for various misconduct that included absconding from justice by some lawyers who fled the country after they were implicated in the 1994 Genocide.
Towards the end of the year however, the same number of lawyers was sworn in, which saw the number of practising lawyers in the country grow to 306 members, the highest in the history of the ten-year old organisation.
At the ICTR, as the 12-year-old UN backed court nears the end of its mandate, several landmark verdicts were rendered and most significant of all was the reversal of Trial Chamber rulings by the Appeals chamber to cut the sentences of three journalists who were combined in what was called the ‘Media Trial’.
The convicts are Hassan Ngeze, Ferdinand Nahimana and Jean Bosco Barayagwiza.
The appeals chamber reversed the sentences of Ngeze and Nahimana from life imprisonment to 30 and 35 years respectively, while that of Barayagwiza was trimmed to 32 from 35 years.
It was also during the outgoing year that an ICTR trial chamber requested Rwanda to present a document to court defending her competence to receive cases from the Tanzania-based UN court.
The tribunal is supposed to have completed its activities by the end of 2008 on all trials on First Instance, and Appeals by 2010.
The ICTR Chief Prosecutor also this year sent indictments of three Genocide suspects, two of whom being under UN custody, while one is still a fugitive.
Meanwhile, for the first time, France arrested some Genocide fugitives this year. Catholic priest Wenceslas Munyeshyaka and former prefect Laurent Bucyibaruta were both arrested by the French police following a call by the ICTR, which had placed them on the list of 17 of its wanted fugitives.
The duo was however released after a few days, on grounds that their indictments were not well prepared, but were again re-arrested barely after a month and are now out provisionally.
The backlogged UN tribunal then wrote to French prosecution asking them to prosecute the two fugitives.
Munyeshyaka was sentenced in absentia by the military tribunal that sentenced the priest to life imprisonment in a trial where he was jointly accused with Maj. Gen. Laurent Munyakazi.
The fact that the ICTR has precedence over Rwandan judiciary makes it impossible for Rwanda to seek extradition of the two fugitives.
Another Genocide fugitive in French custody is Isaac Kamali, who was arrested in the US following an Interpol red notice placed by Rwanda Police.
After it was found out that he held a French passport, he was extradited to France, but Rwanda immediately requested for his extradition and his trial is underway in France.
Other extradition trials that took place this year include that of four fugitives held in the United Kingdom who were held late last year, but Rwanda having no extradition treaty with the UK, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the latter to facilitate the extradition. The ruling for their extradition is due early next year.
Other trials in substance were conducted in Belgium and Canada this year, and Maj. Bernard Ntuyahaga was sentenced to 21 years in prison by a Belgian court, while Desire Munyaneza was tried in Canada, but his sentence is yet to be passed.
Both men were tried on counts of Genocide.
On the sad note, death robbed the judiciary and the nation of one of its most prominent figures and grandfather, Simeon Rwagasore. The former Supreme Court president passed away a few months ago.