Back in Court: Senior Gov’t Officials Charged in Multibillion Case Answer Charges

Caleb Rwamuganza, former PS at Minicofine

Senior government officials who are accused of conspiracy to mismanage public funds, causing the government a loss of over Rwf2bn and flouting tender procedures returned to court on Friday, where they are appealing a decision to deny them bail. 

The officials, who include the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, Caleb Rwamuganza, Godfrey Kabera, the Director-General in the Ministry of Finance, Eric Serubibi, the former Director-General of Rwanda Housing Authority (RHA) and Christian Rwakunda, who was Deputy Director-General in Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB) until recently appeared before Gasabo Intermediate Court.

 They are accused of conniving to flout tender procedures to force through a tender that saw the government acquire a building at an inflated price.

 They are charged alongside Aloys Rusizana, a businessman, who is the owner of the building in question, located in Kacyiru, and Bonaventure Munyabugingo, a private property valuer, who is accused of conspiring with the accused to allocate a price to the building that was higher than its actual price by over Rwf2bn. 

Rwamuganza and co. continued the hearing on Friday in a case that was held virtually which saw the defendants request that they be released, citing mistakes in the writing in the court’s decision. They argued that the date on which they are supposed to be remanded in custody is supposed to end next month. 

Prosecutors contend that the accused led to a loss of taxpayers’ money when they valued the building at Rwf9.85bn yet it had been proved that the said building was worth at least Rwf7.6bn, something the prosecutors say was aimed at defrauding the government and taxpayers the excess amount.

 The defendants are appealing a decision by Kacyiru Primary Court which denied them bail, citing concerns of possible jeopardization of investigations and suspects jumping bail due to the amount involved in the case which is very high.

 As the high-profile case reopened on Friday, defendants capitalized on a mistake in the court documents, citing that they are in custody illegally since court documents show that they were supposed to be detained from August 23, 2020. 

The defendants’ lawyers argued that court documents indicate that the decision to remand them was made on August 23, 2020, which is due next month, but it emerged that the court registrar in the previous hearing was supposed to write “June 23, 2020,” the day the decision was made.

 Gatera Gashabana, who represents businessman Rusizana, said that his client should be released because the date which the court said he should be remanded has not yet passed.

“My client should be immediately released because he is currently being held illegally,” Gashabana submitted to the court.

 Moise Nkundabarashi, Rwamuganza’s lawyer, also added that the arrest warrant was not valid, as its actual date had not yet passed. 

The Prosecution was given an opportunity to respond to the defendant’s argument and they pointed out that it could have been an error by the court registrar which can be corrected. 

After lengthy deliberations, the Judge ordered the trial to continue, adding that the hindrances raised by the defendants’ attorneys can only be examined by a lower court where the decision was made. 

The trial then continued virtually as part of the measures to prevent COVID-19, with the Prosecution making submissions from their Kimihurura offices while some defendants were in court and others in detention. 

Proceedings

 When the hearing continued, the court started with Rusizana. His lawyer argued that there are no serious grounds to deny his client bail pending the substantive hearing because at this point the prosecution is yet to prove that he has caused a loss to the government.

 The lawyers argued that Prosecution cannot say that a loss was caused when it has not done a counter valuation to ascertain that indeed the businessman inflated the price. It was argued that the Prosecutors are relying on the valuation done by Gasabao 3D which was commissioned by the Government. 

They argued that the said valuation report does not give a clear picture since it was done before the building was completed, which could have resulted in undervaluation of the property in question.

 Legally, they argued that the Gasabo 3D valuation was commissioned by the buyer, leaving room for undervaluing, hence an independent valuer was needed to ascertain the actual cost of the building, which is how Munyabungingo came in.

 Lawyers argued that Munyabugingo did a report factor in all issues, proving that the building in question actually costs much more than what was indicated by Gasabo 3D. He was however also arrested for inflating the value of the property. It is said that Munyabungigo had put the value of the building above Rwf13bn.

 They said that instead of Prosecutors relying on one report yet there are at least 3 evaluations done leaves a lot to be desired. They said the Gasabo 3D is no longer relevant because it was done before the building is complete.

 On his part, Rwakunda denied any wrongdoing, saying that if he had reached an agreement with the owner of the building, he would not have demanded the valuation of the building again, and even the first negotiations failed because they failed to reach an agreement with the owner. 

In addition, when the second round of talks was set to take place, he went to the City of Kigali to conduct a house-to-house comparison and in the second round of talks, they arrived at Rwf8bn. 

It was revealed that during the third round of talks, Rwakunda, who was in charge of the previous two rounds of talks, stopped being in charge of the negotiations and Rwamuganza took over. 

Rwakunda also said that he had not attended any procurement meetings with the Rwanda Housing Authority and that by the time the contract to buy the house was signed he was no longer the Permanent Secretary in MININFRA. 

The lawyers argued that had he had an interest or had he been involved in the alleged conspiracy, he would have been involved in the process wherever he was by monitoring the progress. 

In addition, he said that the agreement itself was signed when he was no longer at MININFRA, having joined RHA.

 Alice Umulisa, one of Rwakunda’s lawyers, said that her client had an incurable spinal cord condition and should be granted bail on medical grounds. He also said he had put in place the security of Rwf100 million to grant his release. Prosecutors however said the amount was small compared to the amount at stake. 

However, according to the Prosecution, Rwakunda should continue to be detained because he was involved in illegal negotiations, which led to the purchase of the house at Rrw9.8 billion. 

The prosecution alleges that Rwakunda did not deny that he attended the meeting and that it violated the Minister’s directives on the way negotiations are conducted.

 It said it was not appropriate for him to attend the talks and that under the law, the decision was supposed to be made by the Procurement Board of the Rwanda Housing Authority and that whatever was done was against the law.

 On his part, Kabera Godfrey, told the court that when the negotiations to buy the building began when the ministry was headed by Claver Gatete and ended he had moved to MINIFRA and Dr Uzziel Ndagijimana was in charge at MINECOFIN.

 According to him, he was sent by PS Rwamuganza, who he reported back to and later to Minister Dr Ndagijimana and the Minister of State, Dr Claudine Uwera. He said that he was merely sent as a representative of the Ministry and said there are emails to prove that.

 He wondered why the Ministry which sent him is not accused as an institution but rather him as an individual yet he was representing the Ministry. He wondered why he is held liable as an individual yet he was reporting to his superiors. 

Prosecutors however said that they were not prosecuting Kabera for attending the meeting but that he was being prosecuted for the conspiracy that took place at the meetings he attended, which led to the aforementioned losses. 

Kabera and his lawyer said there was nothing the prosecution did to prove that there was a conspiracy.

 Serubibi’s lawyers said the Former Director General of RHA acted on the orders of PS Rwamuganza and Minister Gatete told him to fast track the process of buying the house for the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISS), which needed its own building since it was spending a lot on rent.

 That Gatete, who was also recently questioned by Rwanda Investigations Bureau (RIB) over his role in the scandal and other issues involved in the mismanagement of public resources, directed RHA to consider the issue an urgent matter of public interest.

 Serubibi in turn informed Minister Gatete the tendering process that needed to be followed which was done and that the Rwanda Public Procurement Agency (RPPA), needed to approve the process, which was done before the house was purchased.

 Friday’s hearing was adjourned at around 5:30 p.m. The judge ruled that the trial would resume on Thursday, July 9, 2020 when the remaining three individuals will respond to the charges they face.




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