Details of how suspended State Minister Edouard Bamporiki took a bribe from a businessman to help him resolve a dispute with city authorities were revealed when the case resumed on Wednesday at Nyarugenge Intermediate Court.
Bamporiki, who was suspended from his ministerial duties by President Paul Kagame in May, is facing charges of corruption and using his position to solicit a bribe in contravention of the law, after he reportedly took a bribe from businessman Norbert Gatera, promising to help him have the City of Kigali reopen his factory in Gisozi, which had been closed due to not meeting requirements.
Last week, the case could not take off after the official arrived in court without his lawyer, prompting the judge to adjourn the hearing to September 21 to allow Bamporiki to appear in court with his lawyer.
On Wednesday, clad in a black suit, Bamporiki this time appeared with his advocates Jean Baptiste Habyarimana and Evode Kayitana, to answer charges leveled against him, which include corruption and soliciting or receiving a bribe. The courtroom was packed by journalists and people linked to the suspended official in one way or another.
The hearing opened with the lawyers of the defendant questioning whether the court has the jurisdiction to hear the case, which they said should have started in the primary court as the law dictates, before heading to a court of a higher standing.
Bamporiki’s lawyers further argued that there is no proof that their client used his position to solicit or take a bribe and that he only offered to broker a deal with the city authorities but did not personally involve himself in the closure of the facility, which is outside his docket.
Despite Bamporiki admitting to taking a bribe on social media, his lawyers argued that the amount he accepted was ‘a token of appreciation’ for his efforts to connect or mediate the businessman, a personal friend, with the Vice Mayor of the City of Kigali in charge of Infrastructure and Urbanisation, Dr Merard Mpabwanamaguru, in a bid to resolve the dispute between the city and the businessman.
Prosecutors on the other hand dismissed the argument of Bamporiki’s lawyers, stating that it is clear he used the power as minister to try and influence the decision of the city, despite knowing that the closed facility in question did not meet the requirements, which is different from him simply mediating.
The prosecution pointed out that Bamporiki’s position made it easy for him to convince people below him in terms of hierarchy, including the Vice Mayor, to act as he wished, which amounts to misuse of public office.
Court was further told that Bamporiki convinced Gatera, the businessman in question, that he was confident that with his involvement, the factory would be reopened, which also points to misuse of authority.
Prosecution further revealed that Bamporiki is the one who provided the information to city authorities about the factory, which is understood to be an alcoholic beverage manufacturer, tipping them off that it doesn’t meet the requirements and at the same time went behind to tip off the businessman and then promise him to resolve the matter.
This, according to Prosecution, meant that Bamporiki was well aware of his calculations and was consciously using his position to influence events. It was also revealed that Bamporiki told the businessman that the Vice Mayor was his friend and gave him assurances of reopening the facility but said that there has to be a cash incentive.
Nyarugenge Intermediate Court ruled in favour of continuing with the trial, stating that it has the jurisdiction to do so. Court heard how Bamporiki reportedly kept Gatera under pressure to deliver the money, Rwf5m and another Rwf10m, which the businessman had previously given the Minister.
Despite paying up, Gatera is said to have felt cheated and coerced into paying huge amounts of money, which prompted him to report the case. Court was told that on April 20, Gatera filed a case with Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB), stating that he was being threatened by Bamporiki, that his factory will be closed for good if he doesn’t pay the required amount.
On April 28, Gatera, founder of Norbert Business Group wrote to city authorities complaining that his factory was closed in 2021 based on Bamporiki’s tip off. Gatera yet again approached the state minister seeking further advice on how to have his factory reopened. The duo agreed to meet again on May 4 at Grand Legacy Hotel in Remera, where he would deliver the money.
Prosecution showed the Court proof that Bamporiki reportedly received another Rwf10m from Gatera to help him secure release of his wife, who was arrested in connection with the illegally built factory. The duo stayed in touch with Bamporiki reportedly asking for more offers.
After back and forth, they agreed to meet at Grand Legacy Hotel in Remera where Bamporiki assured him that he would connect him with Vice Mayor Mpabwanamaguru, and help him have the factory reopened.
At Grand Legacy, Bamporiki reportedly told Gatera to put the money at the reception and later met in the hotel restaurant where they sat and shared a drink till late when they wanted to go home past midnight. RIB operatives jumped into action and arrested them in the hotel parking lot. Some of the money was recovered in his car and that of the Vice Mayor.
Bamporiki’s lawyer insisted that Gatera is a close friend with their client and the transaction was a mere token of appreciation. Also, court heard that Bamporiki told Gatera that if he gave him the money, his factory would be opened and he would work without any challenge and both of them would benefit, suggesting that the businessman would continue to bribe the official.
Prosecutors further argued that by promising to have Gatera’s wife released, Bamporiki was clearly using his position as a minister and top leader to influence institutions, adding that he already admitted to some of the charges during questioning.
Following his suspension on May 5, Bamporiki took to Twitter to admit his actions of accepting a bribe and apologised to the appointing authority. He is accused of soliciting, accepting or offering illegal benefit, a crime provided for and punishable by article 04 of the law on fighting against corruption.
Prosecutors seek 20-year sentence, Rwf200m fine
On Wednesday, Prosecution requested that court hands Bamporiki a combined sentence of 20 years in prison if found guilty on charges of corruption and misuse of office and a fine of Rwf200m.
Any person who solicits, accepts or receives, by any means, an illegal benefit for himself or another person or accepts a promise in order to render or omit a service under his mandate or uses his position to render or omit a service commits an offence.
Upon conviction, Bamporiki is likely to face imprisonment for a term of more than five years but not more than seven years with a fine of three to five times the value of the illegal benefit solicited received.
On his part, Bamporiki started off by apologizing to all Rwandans, stating that when he realised that his actions could constitute a crime, he was quick to apologise and correct himself, which is why he wanted to tell the court his side of the story.
He pointed out that he was called by the Vice Mayor Dr. Mpabwanmaguru who informed him that the City of Kigali has information that he co-owns a factory that was illegally built and is causing problems for the city. Bamporiki said that he informed the city official that the factory is not his, but it is rather owned by his friend Gatera.
The two officials agreed to meet and discuss the issue at Grand Legacy Hotel, where they would watch a football game together. He dismissed claims that he was the one sabotaging Gatera but instead he offered to mediate in resolving the matter as a friend.
Swearing that he is telling the truth, Bamporiki said that he only came in to help the Vice Mayor and the businessman meet and when it happened at Grand Legacy, he was informed that there was some money to ‘buy drinks’ to celebrate the breakthrough. Part of the money, he said, was put in his car, another part in the Vice Mayor’s, while a different amount was left at the counter to cater for the bill.
In regard to having Gatera’s wife released, Bamporiki said that he showed the goodwill to advocate for her release but not for a fee, a point which was reiterated by his lawyers who said that when someone is ‘thanked’ for the good gesture, it does not constitute a crime.
Court will deliver a verdict on September 30, 2022, at 8 am.