The sentencing of genocide denier and ‘political’ activist Rene Claudel Mugenzi by a UK court on Friday, on charges of fraud, has shed a light into the activities of the 44-year old, with many who know him saying that he has always been a fraudster and imposter.
Mugenzi, who has been living in the UK, was on Friday sentenced to 27 months in jail for stealing more than £220,000 from Norwich Roman Catholic Cathedral while volunteering as its treasurer.
Mugenzi was found guilty of transferring cash from the bank account of St John the Baptist Cathedral in Norwich to his personal account to fund his gambling addiction.
For close to a decade, Mugenzi has been claiming that his life was under threat from the Rwandan government, a claim he first advanced in 2011 as he sought special protection from the U.K government.
At the time, the Rwandan government from the onset distanced itself from the accusations, with the Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time, Louise Mushikiwabo, saying that Mugenzi was an imposter seeking relevance by levelling unfounded accusations against the Rwandan government.
In a subsequent press conference at the time, President Paul Kagame said that he was surprised and shocked to see in the papers that he was going after someone in the UK he has never heard of or seen before.
Despite Rwanda categorically proving that there was no threat whatsoever to Mugenzi’s life, the activist and impostor continued to get more coverage in western outlets, with some describing him as ‘Kigali’s fiercest critic’, while rights groups were in bed with him for the years that followed his claims.
For the most part, the Government of Rwanda disregarded and ignored Mugenzi and others in the U.K who sought relevance by relentlessly accusing it of threatening their lives.
Fast forward to July 2020, Mugenzi appeared in the Norwich Magistrates’ Court where he admitted to fraud at the cathedral but in doing so, through his lawyer David Foulkes, he asked magistrates to ban the press from publishing his name.
Foulkes argued that Mugenzi’s life was under threat from the Rwandan Government, since he was a government critic. This was based on the “threat to life” notice he was given by the Metropolitan Police in 2011.
Having noticed that the details of his fraud would come to light and expose his lies, Mugenzi and his lawyers battled to keep the case out of the media.
A UK newspaper, Eastern Daily Press, took it upon itself to go an extra mile and expose Mugenzi, who at this point was succeeding in keeping his dirty acts out of the press.
In a detailed editorial, the newspaper gave an account of how it successfully won the fight to name Mugenzi in the cathedral scandal – a battle that lasted 3 months.
Mugenzi first appeared at Norwich Magistrates’ Court on July 15 and admitted to fraud at the cathedral but the story was not covered. His lawyer argued that if his name and location was published, it would lead to his life being endangered.
However, the newspaper’s court reporter responded by telling magistrates that he should be named, like every other adult defendant who appears before the courts.
The magistrates agreed to impose an order banning his name being published until his sentencing at Norwich Crown Court. Printing his name was considered contempt of court – an offence which can land one in prison if found guilty.
The paper however fought on, doing its own background checks on Mugenzi and found that in fact, he was not hiding his names or location as he openly shared details of his life on social media.
“We found he had repeatedly appeared in the media, published photos of his location on social media, revealed his work addresses online and even stood to become an MP in 2015,” the newspaper said.
The EDP wrote to magistrates asking them to overturn the order in light of this information. The court still refused and said as the case was going before Norwich Crown Court, it was for the judge there to deal with it.
The paper was also informed that when Mugenzi was sentenced, the order banning his name being published would expire, meaning that his legal team would have to apply for a new order, which they could then argue against.
An error at the magistrates’ court however meant the order banning him being named did not state that it would expire upon sentencing, meaning that the newspaper would have to go to the Crown Court to apply for the overturning of the gagging order.
At the end of September, Judge Katharine Moore said she was unable to overturn the order as she had no power over the magistrates’ court. Mugenzi’s sentencing was delayed until mid-October to address the matter.
All this time, Mugenzi and his lawyer were working hard to make sure that the information regarding his fraud case remained out of the media.
As fate would have it, the Crown Prosecution Service, which was accusing Mugenzi, sided with Eastern Daily Press, arguing that his name could be published. The paper shared evidence that Mugenzi was personally putting out information that gave away his location and identity.
On October 16 when all parties returned to court, Judge Moore heard both sides and rejected the defence’s application, pointing out that the principle of open justice should be upheld and said the fears about Mugenzi’s life being under threat were “not well founded” and had “no reliable support”.
The Judge praised the newspaper for acting with “conspicuous care” and when the case returned to court for sentencing on October 23, 2020, it meant that the EDP could now name Mugenzi in their story.
The landmark decision meant that Mugenzi at this point had lost the battle and it was just a matter of time and all details of his misconduct and fraud would be known to the world.
A Manipulator, an Impostor
But for those who know Mugenzi, the emerging details of his thuggery and fraud were not surprising. Mugenzi is said to have taken cash from the bank account of the church. Much of the money he took was for Catholic charities and church work.
Media in the UK reported that Mugenzi’s fraudulent conduct was unearthed after the Cathedral struggled to pay bills as he drained the accounts. The Cathedral has only received around a quarter of the missing money back from insurers.
Amb. Olivier Nduhungirehe, Rwanda’s Ambassador to The Netherlands, who has been among the people actively engaging and calling out Mugenzi on social media, said that it has always been clear that he was an impostor who only sought relevance by accusing the Rwandan government.
“The conviction of Rene Claudel Mugenzi for stealing £220,000 pounds from the Church of Norwich didn’t surprise me because it confirms what I’ve always said about him that he is an imposter,” Nduhungirehe said.
Nduhungirehe said that Mugenzi is an imposter not only because he denies the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi but he has always organized and participated in conferences that deny or minimize the genocide yet at the same time, he claimed to be a survivor of the same genocide he minimizes.
Nduhungirehe said that Mugenzi’s father is a known Genocide fugitive living in The Netherlands yet his son claims to have survived the genocide.
“It didn’t surprise me because it confirms the person he is, because when you fool the world that you are a Genocide Survivor, you can as well fool parishioners that you can be a good treasurer and that their money is safe with you,” the envoy said.
Nduhungirehe says that Mugenzi’s case should be a good lesson for governments in the west and also the international media and human rights organizations which tend to trust individuals like him, who claim to be human rights activists yet in actual sense they are something totally different.
“It’s a good decision that was taken by the court of justice in the UK and we hope that from here, other countries will be meticulous before trusting those so-called human rights activists whose intention is to lie and steal money from unsuspecting groups and organisations,”.
Sources within the Rwandan community in the U.K indicate that Mugenzi fraudulently took money out of many people and refused to pay back. Over a dozen people say they loaned him money or took loans on his behalf, only for him not to meet his obligations.
Mugenzi, who actively uses social media to attack the Rwandan government, is said to have used his position as ‘critic of the Rwandan’ government to dupe whoever had a case against him, telling them that he would report him to the government for threatening him, which would endanger his accusers.
Gatete Nyiringabo Ruhumuliza, a legal expert, blogger and commentator says that Mugenzi and his peers use the gullibility of western countries and media to portray that they are threatened by the Rwandan government, and in doing so, they manage to dupe their victims.
“He was the darling of British media, presented as a human rights champion, as a top activist against ‘Kagame dictatorship’, a resident analyst on BBC Gahuza, to the point that Scotland Yard once provided him with security detail,”
“He went so high that his downfall leaves mud on the face of all of them,” Gatete said.
Reports from the UK indicate that most of the stolen money went into his own account to fund his gambling addiction. Other sources say he squandered much of the stolen funds in ‘prostitutes’ as his penchant for women was well known across the UK.
As it is now, it is the end of an era for a man who fed off relentlessly accusing the Government of Rwanda of this and that and built a name as Kigali’s ‘top critic’ but on falsehoods. His downfall is one that isn’t very surprising as his claims of being targeted by the government of his country of origin.