10 February 2018

Rwanda: Tax Body, Banks to Auction Rwigara Property

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.

The Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) says it will, by the end of February, recover $6 million (Rwf5 billion) it says is owed by Premier Tobacco Company, which belongs to the family of jailed government critic, Diane Rwigara.

RRA says it is at an advanced stage in negotiations with creditors on how to auction the family's property to pay off the debt.

The family's accounts in GT Bank and Ecobank were frozen, but cash deposits can be made.

"This month, we will work with all banks that have unpaid loans and other creditors to see how we can all get paid what we are owed," said Richard Tusabe, RRA Commissioner-General, adding, "We are confident that the procedure will be concluded by the end of February. If between now and then they pay the debt, then the process will stop."

Last month, the Rwigara family filed a case in the Commercial Court of Nyarugenge, accusing RRA of illegally seizing its bank accounts and assets, claiming that such acts had prevented the tobacco factory from recovery.

The family's lawyer, Janvier Rwagatare, told the court that the tobacco plant's computers, books of accounts and warehouses had all been illegally seized by RRA, making it difficult for the company to turn a profit.

He said the raw material used to make cigarettes was decomposing in the warehouse because of lack of access and requested the court to order RRA to withdraw all seizures. He added that the factory had lost all clients after being out of business for seven months.

However, RRA lawyers Clement Gatera and Bajeni Byiringiro argued that the assets -- including books of accounts, computers and finished tobacco products -- had been seized legally, as a consequence of the company failing to pay taxes.

In the summary judgment made last week, which lasted less than twenty minutes, the judge ruled in favour of RRA, saying the factory was seized legally and no laws were broken by RRA.

He dismissed the case and advised the plaintiff to appeal the ruling.

In an interview, Anne Rwigara, the family's business representative, said the decision would be appealed.

RRA said the factory is free to begin operations but that it will jointly manage the warehouses to monitor activities until all the money owed in taxes is recovered.

"We are open to let this factory operate, but under strict measures that will give us visibility about what they do," Mr Tusabe said in an interview.

The family's troubles began last year, shortly after Diane Rwigara, the family's eldest daughter, launched an unsuccessful bid to run for presidency in the August polls.

She was disqualified by the electoral commission and charged with inciting insurrection and forging signatures required of presidential candidates.

Her mother, Adeline Rwigara, is also in detention on charges of inciting insurrection and promoting sectarianism.

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