Johannesburg — The following release comes from Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa, founder of the Union Trade Center:
Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa, founder of Rwanda's largest shopping center, the Union Trade Center (UTC), on Thursday accused the Rwandan government of amending its laws to justify illegal seizure of his property.
The Rwandan parliament is currently drafting legislation to give the government legal cover to take over the mall. Ayabatwa cited language in the legislation targeting property owners who "may (1) have died and there is no legal heir; (2) be living in exile due to various reasons; (3) be staying abroad due to various reasons."
The government previously has tried to allege that Ayabatwa, who resides in South Africa, abandoned the UTC because he no longer resides in Rwanda. With no existing law to justify that claim legally, the parliament must now go back and create a new one, Ayabatwa said.
"Actions such as this amount to economic suicide," Ayabatwa said. "The UTC is one of the country's most successful private businesses. Its businesses support more than 400 employees and contribute thousands of dollars in tax revenue each year. The message here is that the government is not interested in private investment."
This is the latest in a series of steps by the government to seize the UTC. In an October 1 letter, the Rwandan Commission of Abandoned Properties informed UTC tenants that they must deposit their rent in the commission's bank account, effective immediately. The UTC, which opened in 2006, is home to 81 privately-owned shops, restaurants and other retail establishments.
"Clearly, the government has failed to find an existing law to justify the unlawful seizure of the UTC," said David Himbara, senior advisor to Ayabatwa. "So now it is asking parliament to arbitrarily create a legal instrument for expropriating a $20 million business. It is illegal and absurd."
Himbara added: "Mr. Ayabatwa is a Pan-African businessman with operations all over Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. He cannot - nor should he be expected to - reside in every country in which he does business. This move by the government is outrageous."
Himbara said that UTC shareholders will pursue every available means to recover their assets, including through the courts.