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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Man Named in Rwandan Genocide to Stand Trial

WICHITA, Kan. (CN) - An 83-year-old man accused of participating in the 1994 Rwandan genocide will stand trial for naturalization fraud and misuse of an alien registration card, a federal judge ruled, rejecting his attorneys' bid to drop the charges.

Lazare Kobagaya lied on his immigration application and during interviews in 2005 and 2006, according to a federal indictment.

He answered that he had not participated in genocide and "that he had not persecuted (either directly or indirectly) and person of race, religion, national origin, membership in a particular social group or political opinion." He added that he lived in the neighboring Republic of Burundi, not Rwanda, during the slaughter.

For the seemingly satisfactory answers, the U.S. government granted Kobagaya an alien registration card in 2006.

After gathering 50 witnesses, however, the government says it leared that Kobagaya, a Hutu, had committed arson and murder in Rwanda between April 15 and July 18, 1994. Kobagaya had "mobilized attackers and coerced them to continue their participation in the killing" of Tutsi, according to the indictment.

Kobagaya's defense team argued that the U.S. government bribed its witnesses - "supplying them with a daily stipend, food payments, witness fees, transportation fees, cell phones and hotel lodgings" - in violation of due process. They also claimed that Kobagaya could not receive a fair trial.

"[The] Department of Justice has overstepped its authority in promulgating a regulation that gives it the upper hand in dealing with witnesses before trial," the defense said in a motion to dismiss, as quoted in the April 18 ruling by U.S. District Judge Monti Belot.

Belot disagreed with the argument and said the payments were reasonable.

"Defendant has failed to show that the government's actions in this case is an offer for something that is not normally offered and inconsistent with the regular role of the prosecutor," Belot wrote. "It is entirely reasonable to compensate a witness for time and expenses in meeting with a government attorney to prepare for trial as long as the amounts paid are reasonable."

In March 2008, the government met with 32 witnesses in Butare, Rwanda. It transported the witnesses to interviews and provided them with 2,000 Rwandan francs for food, or about $3.60.

Belot noted that another federal judge had ruled in Wilkins v. Clary that "the payments were 'standard procedure and hardly the "stuff" of bribery.'"

"The government did not exceed the per diem rate for its witnesses and was actually significantly below the rate allowed," the ruling continues. "The government asserts that these payments are proper and that any other finding would 'lead to the counterintuitive and counterproductive end of forcing potential government witnesses to pay their own travel and subsistence costs associated with voluntary meetings.'"

About 800,000 people, mainly Tutsi, were killed by Hutu over a three-month span in the small East African nation, according to a Human Rights Watch estimate.

Kobagaya will stand trial next week in the District of Kansas. He faces up to 10 years in prison, revocation of his U.S. citizenship and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

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