Rwandan and Kenyan governments in dispute over frozen funds

Background of the case

The Rwandan and Kenyan governments are in a legal tussle over the ownership of Sh400 million (about $3.6 million) that is held in two city banks in Nairobi. The money was frozen by the Kenyan authorities in 2019 after it was suspected to be linked to money laundering and terrorism financing activities.

The funds belong to a Rwandan businessman, Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa, who is accused by the Rwandan government of financing rebel groups that seek to overthrow President Paul Kagame. Ayabatwa, who lives in exile in South Africa, denies the allegations and claims that he is a victim of political persecution.

The Rwandan government has requested the Kenyan government to transfer the frozen funds to its account, arguing that they are proceeds of crime and that Ayabatwa owes taxes to the Rwandan Revenue Authority. The Kenyan government, however, has not complied with the request, citing legal and diplomatic hurdles.

Rwandan and Kenyan governments in dispute over frozen funds

Court proceedings

The case is being heard by the High Court of Kenya, where Ayabatwa has filed a suit challenging the freezing of his funds and seeking their release. He has also sued the Rwandan government for defamation and interference with his business interests.

Ayabatwa’s lawyers have argued that the freezing of his funds was unlawful and violated his constitutional rights. They have also questioned the credibility of the evidence presented by the Rwandan government, which they claim is based on fabricated documents and false witnesses.

The Rwandan government, on the other hand, has maintained that Ayabatwa is a fugitive who has been convicted in absentia by a Rwandan court for various crimes, including tax evasion, fraud, and terrorism. It has also accused him of being the founder and financier of the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), a rebel group that operates in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.

The Kenyan government, which is represented by the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions, has asked the court to dismiss Ayabatwa’s suit and uphold the freezing order. It has also argued that it has an obligation to cooperate with the Rwandan government under the mutual legal assistance treaty between the two countries.

Implications of the case

The case has raised several issues that have implications for the relations between Rwanda and Kenya, as well as for the regional security and stability. Some of these issues are:

  • The sovereignty and jurisdiction of Kenya over its financial institutions and legal processes. The Kenyan government has to balance its respect for the rule of law and due process with its commitment to combat money laundering and terrorism financing.
  • The human rights and fair trial of Ayabatwa, who claims that he is being targeted for his political views and business success. He also alleges that he has been denied access to his lawyers and family members by the Rwandan authorities.
  • The credibility and accountability of the Rwandan government, which has been accused of using its influence and resources to silence its critics and opponents. It also faces allegations of human rights violations and involvement in armed conflicts in neighboring countries.
  • The cooperation and trust between Rwanda and Kenya, which are both members of the East African Community (EAC) and key partners in trade, investment, and security. The case could strain their bilateral ties and affect their regional integration efforts.

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