9 September 2017

Rwanda: Rwigara Family - Victims or Troublemakers?

Photo: Cyril Ndegeya/The East African
Members of the late Kigali tycoon Assinapol Rwigara’s family when they were taken in for questioning by Rwanda police on September 4, 2017 at their residence in Kiyovu.
analysis

The family of the late businessman Assinapol Rwigara have for the past two weeks been involved in run-ins with the Rwanda National Police.

While they say they are under illegal house arrest, the police say they are not but are under investigation for tax evasion and forgery on the part of Diane Shima Rwigara.

Last week, the family barricaded themselves in their Kiyovu villa alleging that they were under illegal detention.

The ensuing impasse was ended when police officers climbed over the gate of their residence and forcibly took Diane Shima Rwigara, her mother Adeline Rwigara and her sister Anne Rwigara into custody for questioning. They were later released and escorted back home, but the police said investigations into the family would continue.

The family is accused of tax evasion and allegedly owe up to Rwf5 billion ($5.9 million) in taxes though this information could not be independently verified by The EastAfrican.

Efforts to get details of the tax evasion charges have been futile, with police asking for patience until investigations are complete and the case is presented in court.

Government officials including the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General Johnston Busingye accused the family of lying about being kidnapped to depict authorities in a bad light. However Ms Rwigara, the most vocal of the Rwigara family, said they are being persecuted because of her decision to go against President Paul Kagame in the recently concluded presidential elections.

"There is no case, there are no charges. We are being persecuted because of my decision to run for presidency," said Ms Rwigara.

Officials from the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi) accused her of dishonesty and attempting to smear the government by staging her disappearance.

Witch-hunt

Rights activists accused Kigali of witch-hunting the Rwigara family because of Diane's dare to challenge the president. Human Rights Watch condemned Kigali for harassing the Rwigaras and called for their immediate release.

Efforts by The EastAfrican to access the Rwigara residence throughout the past week have been futile and their mobile phones remain switched off.

On Wednesday, the family lawyer, Janvier Rwagatare said it was legal for the police to break into their residence as the family had gone against police summons despite earlier agreements between all the parties that they would appear for questioning.

Shortly after Mr Rwagatare's statement, Diane, through her social media accounts, disowned the lawyer and said he was an impersonator.

"Detained members of the Rwigara family have not been given an opportunity to meet and instruct any lawyer about the illegal detention," said a press release from the family dated September 6.

Mr Rwagatare has been representing the Rwigaras in property-related court cases.

The Rwigaras are considered one of the wealthiest families in Rwanda. Their problems with authorities started with the death of Mr Rwigara, who died in February 2015 in an accident. However, the family claim foul play.

Until his death, Mr Rwigara was involved in a number of property disputes -- some still on going -- involving him and the City of Kigali. He was also involved in cases with Rwanda Revenue Authority over smuggling and tax evasion.

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