World

Accused Rwanda genocide financier makes 1st court appearance in France

Felicien Kabuga, indicted on charges of genocide related to the 1994 Rwandan massacre of some 800,000 people, appeared before a French court on Wednesday, four days after his arrest following a quarter of a century on the run.

Felicien Kabuga, accused of bankrolling militias in 1994, arrested after years on run

French gendarmes secure as the police convoy believed to be carrying Rwandan genocide fugitive Felicien Kabuga arrives at the Paris courthouse where the 84-year-old appeared for an arraignment hearing. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

Felicien Kabuga, indicted on charges of genocide related to the 1994 Rwandan massacre of some 800,000 people, appeared before a French court on Wednesday, four days after his arrest following a quarter of a century on the run.

In his first appearance in public in more than two decades, the octogenarian was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair, dressed in jeans and a blue jumper and wearing a face mask.

Kabuga is accused of bankrolling and arming the ethnic Hutu militias that waged the 100-day killing spree against Rwanda's Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Rwanda's most wanted fugitive, he was arrested on Saturday in a Paris suburb.

His lawyers said in a statement ahead of the hearing that Kabuga had the right to be presumed innocent and opposed being transferred from France to a United Nations tribunal that handles crimes against humanity based in Tanzania.

Defence lawyer Laurent Bayon told the court Kabuga wished to be tried in France.

Could be transferred to UN court

The court will decide whether to hand Kabuga to the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals. The international court is based in the Hague, Netherlands as well as Arusha, Tanzania.

The IRMCT's chief prosecutor told Reuters the court had already requested Kabuga be transferred to United Nations custody.

Kabuga's voice was weak, but audible, as he confirmed through an interpreter his identity and parents names. He gave his date of birth as March 1, 1933, which would make him 87. Previous reports have put his age at 84.

Kabuga's arrest marked the end of a more than two-decade long hunt that spanned Africa and Europe.

A wanted poster at the Genocide Fugitive Tracking Unit office in Kigali, Rwanda is shown on Monday, two days after Felicien Kabuga's arrest. (Simon Wohlfahrt/AFP via Getty Images)

A one-time tea and coffee tycoon, he is accused of being a main financier of the genocide, paying for the militias that carried out the massacres, as well as importing huge numbers of machetes, according to the UN tribunal's indictment.

He also co-owned Radio Television Milles Collines, whose radio station broadcast anti-Tutsi messages that fanned the ethnic hatred.

The United States had placed a $5 million US bounty on his head.

In the 25 years since the end of the Rwandan genocide, General Dallaire has dedicated his life to recounting the horrors he faced, in the hopes that it might never happen again. But only in the last few years has he begun to discuss the immeasurable trauma he has suffered due to his experiences in Rwanda. In 2016, he sat down with Carol to discuss his memoir, "Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Battle with PTSD." 27:29

The French court granted a request by the defence to defer the hearing and set the next date for May 27.

Exiting the courtroom, Kabuga raised his fist as several relatives, including one son, voiced encouragement.

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