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The East African : Dec 1st 2014
24 ABANDONED PROPERTIES IN RWANDA Tycoon loses bid to recover seized properties East Af≥ican Cou≥t of Justice ≥uled that EAC T≥eaty has not been violated BY ROBERT MBARAGA Special Correspondent lost his bid to force the Rwandan government to compensate him for “illegally taking over his property.” Mr Rujugiro had sued Rwanda E in the Arusha-based East African Court of Justice, arguing that the seizure of his Union Trade Centre, which is valued at $20 million is a violation of the East African Community Treaty. The Court ruled on November 27 that UTC had not proved a violation of the Treaty, attributable to the government of Rwanda. The shopping mall was taken over by the Kigali City Abandoned Property Management Commission. UTC had argued that the gov- ernment action contravened the the EAC Treaty that prohibits member states from undertaking any measures likely to jeopardise the realisation of the objectives of EAC or implementation of the Treaty. However, the judges ruled that taking over UTC had not been proved to have contravened Rwanda’s internal laws, and that EACJ did not have the jurisdiction to determine this. The Court ruled that the issue for domestic entity’s compliance with the internal laws of partner states or lack thereof was not a matter of the Treaty interpretation and is therefore not an issue for determination by the EACJ. “This court is enjoined to re- strict itself to the jurisdiction conferred upon it under Article 27(1) and acknowledge the jurisdiction of national courts as delineated in the proviso to Article 27(1).” The EACJ also recognised State responsibility for the conduct of decentralised or devolved governance entities. The government of Rwanda had questioned the jurisdiction of the EACJ to hear a case involving actions of an entity that was neither a partner state nor an institution of the EAC. It asserted that the acts com- plained of could not be attributed to a partner state or an institution of the East African Community so as to bring them within the regional court’s jurisdiction. It also argued that it was not liable for the acts of the commission, which had independent leadership. xiled Rwandan businessman Tribert Rujugiro has The EastAfrican NEWS NOVEMBER 29 - DECEMBER 5, 2014 Mr Rujugiro’s mansion, valued at $2 million, has been converted into a guest house by the Commission for Abandoned Properties. Picture: File In August 8, last year, the Rwanda National Public Prosecution Authority said it had instructed Access Bank Ltd to freeze Mr Rujugiro’s and his wife Nathalie Mukagatete’s 12 accounts, citing an “ongoing criminal investigation.” Subsequently, the Commis- sion of Abandoned Properties in Nyarugenge district announced that it had taken charge of Mr Rujugiro’s interest in Union Trade Centre. At the end of October, the Commission of Abandoned Properties in Kicukiro district also announced that it had seized Mr Rujugiro’s palatial residence located in Gikondo. The mansion, which is val- ued at $2 million, has since been converted into a bar and guest house as well as a wedding venue. Mid this year, Nyaruguru district announced that it had taken control of Mr Rujugiro’s shares in Nshili Kivu Tea Factory (NKTF) after they were classified as “abandoned properties.” Poor management The decision to take over the shares was reached by the Commission of Abandoned Properties in Southern Province on June 25 after it was resolved that they were “poorly managed.” The tycoon’s attempts to block the processes to take over his properties in local courts hit a dead end as his lawyer Alain Ndibwami relinquished his powers of attorney at the beginning of December last year in the face of forgery charges. The tycoon has since accused the state of persecuting his legal representatives and relatives and illegally taking over his businesses. In an earlier interview with The EastAfrican, Minister for Justice Johnston Busingye said the decision to take over management of the said properties was aimed at “government taking responsibility.” “First of all, it should be un- derstood the government did not take over management of UTC and other properties belonging to Mr Rujugiro. The decisions made do not mean that ownership has changed. This just concerns the day-to-day management of these properties. It is a matter of someone taking responsibility and someone taking action whenever needed,” Mr Busingye said. He dismissed allegations that government had amended the law on abandoned properties to facilitate grabbing Mr Rujugiro’s assets. “A country cannot change laws for one individual, it has never happened anywhere. The said law, which is being amended, is still in parliament contrary to reports that it has been passed. The decisions made were based on a 2003 law, which was put in place before UTC even existed,” Mr Busingye says “Again it should be under- stood that Mr Rujugiro’s properties are not the only ones classified as abandoned. There are between 2,000 and 3,000 such properties scattered across the country being managed under this law. Mr Rujugiro is not an exception,” he said. Mr Busingye said it is within SUING FROM EXILE Mr Rujugiro, who was President Paul Kagame’s economic adviser, left Rwanda in 2009 after battling tax evasion and money laundering charges in the United Kingdom. The government has often accused the tycoon of funding dissident groups. The government said it wants to to ensure that the proceeds from such properties are not diverted to actions that would lead to breach of the country’s security. The National Public Prosecution Authority says Mr Rujugiro is being investigated regarding several charges, including funding negative forces. The tycoon’s attempts to block the processes to take over his properties in local courts hit a dead end when his lawyer Alain Ndibwami was charged with forgery. the law for the government to take care of such properties. “There are things that can happen to such properties that cannot be foreseen. It is only fitting that the government, through districts, come in to avert such unforeseen events rather than taking chances. We do not want a case similar to that of Westgate Mall in Nairobi where terrorists procured space to map the building before the attack,” he added. Mr Busingye pointed out that during the recent fire catastrophes in Kigali, it was found that the mall fire prevention system was not in good shape and immediately the current management took charge, it restored it, which he said would not have happened without proper management. He said one of the reasons that informed the decision was to ensure that the proceeds from such properties are not diverted to actions that would lead to breach of the country’s security. David Himbara, an advisor to Mr Rujugiro, who is exiled in Canada, said the government move to take over the properties of the businessman is illegal and contradicts Rwanda’s claims of being a business friendly country. “The government claims that The 73-year-old tycoon (above), who is exiled in South Africa, had feared that several of his other properties in Rwanda could be seized after the mansion located in Gikondo was taken away Mr Rujugiro’s assets were taken over because they were abandoned, since he does not reside in Rwanda,” Dr Himbara said. “As Mr Rujugiro explains, however, this assertion is contrary to Rwandan and universal laws that protect property owners and shareholders regardless of whether they are domiciled inside or outside their native countries,” he added.
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