In August 2001, seven years after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the Rwanda government issued an official statement stating that Felicien Kabuga was living in Kenya and demanded that the Kenyan government arrest him.
Prior to that, Kenya was in the limelight following local and international media reports that Nairobi was harbouring one of the masterminds of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
However, then Kenya’s Foreign minister Chris Obure, maintained that the government was not aware of Kabuga’s presence in the country, but was willing to extradite him “should it be proved that he is anywhere within our jurisdiction."
Similarly, then Attorney-General Amos Wako, said that Kenya was not a safe haven for persons indicted of war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and that Kabuga may not set foot on Kenyan soil.
But it was widely believed that Kabuga used his wealth to buy protection from corrupt public officials in both presidents Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki regimes, with or without the blessings of high ranking government officials.
The fact that in the late 1990s the Kabuga family was operating businesses in Nairobi and even filed court cases to be allowed access to accounts to sell property, proves that both regimes allowed Kabuga’s passage or stay in the country at will, using a number of different passports, and made it possible for him to establish businesses and compromise intelligence agencies as he evaded every bid to capture him.
Dr Amukowa Anangwe, who was the minister of co-operatives in the Moi government, told The EastAfrican that Kabuga found it easy because a corrupt system is always vulnerable.
“Provided that those who were benefitting from his wealth had president Moi’s ear, it was easy for him to get protection,” said Dr Anangwe.
Farah Maalim Mohammed, a former Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of Kenya, said it was not just individuals protecting Mr Kabuga, but the entire security machinery. According to Mr Maalim, Mr Kabuga had compromised these people using his immense wealth.
He said that while Mr Kabuga went underground when President Kibaki took over, he was still living in Kenya under an arrangement with top security bosses.
Earlier in June 2001, the International Crisis Group (ICG) released a report titled “International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda: Delayed Justice,” implicating government officials in the hiding of Mr Kabuga.
The US had in 2002 issued a $5 million reward for information that could lead to Mr Kabuga’s arrest. It is believed a freelance journalist William Michael Munuhe was abducted and later killed after he arranged a face-to-face meeting between the FBI and Mr Kabuga. The meeting never took place for Mr Munuhe was found murdered in his house on the day of the supposed meeting.
The media reports on Mr Kabuga centred on his Houdini-type escapes, most probably after being tipped off by security agents on his payroll.
Earlier in July 1997, media reported that Mr Kabuga escaped arrest after a joint Kenya-Rwanda operation nabbed seven Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi suspects in Nairobi.
But the 2001 ICG report said that ICTR investigators had traced Kabuga to several residences in Kenya, in Nairobi, Nakuru and Eldoret, some of which belonged to a close relative of President Moi.
It is not clear, exactly when Mr Kabuga arrived in Kenya.
In June 2002, a report by The New Humanitarian had indicated that Kabuga, after fleeing Rwanda in 1994, allegedly entered Kenya through the Democratic Republic of the Congo, after being expelled from Switzerland where he first sought refuge.
Court documents in Kenya and the ICTR that was based in Arusha, revealed that Mr Kabuga’s business empire in Kenya went back to 1995 when he established an import-export business called Nshikabem Agency.
Kenya has continually denied reports of Kabuga’s presence despite intelligence reports from various countries—including Rwanda, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the US—indicating that Kabuga moved freely in and out of Kenya several times between 1996 and 2010.
After President Moi left power in 2002, the US continued to accuse Kenya of harbouring Kabuga. Then US Senator Barack Obama—who would later became president—while visiting the country in August 2006, accused the country of creating a safe haven for Mr Kabuga through corrupt means.
“It can shield a war criminal by allowing him to purchase safe haven for a time and robbing all humanity of the opportunity to bring the criminal to justice,” said Mr Obama.
Later, after Obama became the president of the US, in 2009, the former US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes, Stephen Rapp accused both the Moi and Kibaki governments of refusing to hand over the fugitive.
Mr Kabuga’s businesses in Kenya included the Kenya Trust Company Ltd (KTC Ltd) that owned Spanish Villas on Nairobi’s Lenana Road; a transport business between Mombasa and Rwanda, as well as matatu businesses in Nairobi. The Moi government, however, maintained in court that KTC Ltd had no known address in the country.
Later in 2008, Mr Wako, due to international pressure, initiated a case seeking court orders to stop Kenya Trust Company Ltd (KTC Ltd) from selling Spanish Villas property until the ICTR case against Mr Kabuga was concluded.
In July 2012, then NTV journalist, John Allan Namu, revealed that Kabuga was operating in Kenya under the alias Sadiki Nzakobi.
With documents from the Department of Defence headquarters, and copies from the Third Battalion of the Kenya Army in Nakuru, Mr Namu revealed that Kabuga had passed himself off as a Somalia refugee who had sought asylum in Kenya due to insecurity in Somalia, “And should be assisted with the necessary military documentation to enable him stay in the country safely.”
This article was published by The East African.