Former Rwandan premier sentenced with partial suspension of penalty 

By The Rwandan Lawyer

Prosecution in Kigali has asked the court to reconsider charging Rwanda’s former Prime Minister, Dr Pierre Damien Habumuremyi with a count of breach of trust which he was earlier on cleared of in a case ruling held in 2020.The former Premier, who at the time served as chairman of Chancellery for Heroes, National Orders and Decoration of Honour was in 2020 arrested and charged with two criminal offences including offering bouncing cheques and breach of trust with his business associates. The crimes were allegedly committed by Habumuremyi within his power and during business operations and transactions with other Rwandan businessmen who supplied electronic equipment (computers) to the Christian University of Rwanda. The present article discusses the rationale of the incrimination of this former higher ranked personality.

Former Prime Minister, Pierre Damien Habumuremyi, is set to serve a three-year jail term and pay a fine of Rwf892.2 million after the Nyarugenge Intermediate Court on Friday, November 27, convicted him of issuing bounced cheques. Habumuremyi, who is detained at Nyarugenge Prison in Mageragere, attended the ruling virtually.The former Premier was arrested in July this year, being accused of issuing bounced cheques and breach of trust.On the latter charge, the court ruled that the prosecution did not provide enough evidence to render the suspect guilty, therefore announcing him not guilty.However, on the other charge, the judge noted that there was sufficient proof that when Habumuremyi issued the cheques he was aware that there was no money on the account to credit it. “One of the evidence is that the accused himself admitted at many occasions that he was aware of the cheques being bounced,” the judge said.Stating the charges against him in recent court hearings, the prosecution said Habumuremyi issued bounced cheques totaling to about Rwf170 million to different people on behalf of his now-defunct Christian University of Rwanda. In his defence, Habumuremyi always pleaded not guilty of the charge saying that the cheques the university issued were not exactly meant for payments, but rather were a form of commitment to the creditors to demonstrate that the university owed them money. In response, the prosecution would note that the former Prime Minister shouldn’t claim that there was no agreement between both parties to that effect, adding that “every collateral should be registered and approved by the Registrar General, which did not happen in this case.”Friday’s verdict can be appealed against at the High Court if any of the parties is not satisfied, not later than 30 days after the ruling.Before his arrest, Habumuremyi was the Chairperson of the Chancellery for Heroes, National Orders and Decorations of Honour (CHENO).Habumuremyi was jointly accused with Charles Serushyana, the former Director of Finance at the defunct Christian University.He was accused of using his position to sign on a cheque while he knew very well that the account against which the cheque was issued was not credited.In his defense, Serushyana claimed that by the time he signed the cheque he was no longer in charge of finance and therefore had no clue that there was no money on the university’s account. Though he was no longer in charge of finance, he had been requested by the university to give necessary help whenever needed, including signing on cheques once in a while. The court heard that Serushyana’s defence was credible, because he signed the bounced cheques months after he was no longer on the post, therefore announcing him not guilty.

Analysis

Habumuremyi had appealed this court ruling and his sentence on charges of offering bouncing cheques. However, in an appeal hearing this Friday September 3, 2021; prosecution resurrected the case appealing to court to have Habumuremyi recharged on the count of breaching trust.

Prosecution argued that even when Habumuremyi claimed (in the earlier trial) that he had not committed the offence since he offered the cheques as a guarantee on behalf of the university, his suppliers were not informed of this action. Prosecution contended that if the university suppliers were aware of this arrangement, they wouldn’t go ahead to sue Habumuremyi. Notwithstanding those charges, in its verdict the intermediate court reduced the penalties of the accused and granted him a suspension of penalty of fifteen months. In our humble view, the court may have rather released him because there were no risks for him to escape from justice and just constrain him to pay back those huge debts. Otherwise, orders of provisional detention as well as the sentence of 3 years were not solving the problem of due amounts but just humiliating and punishing Dr Habumuremyi as a politician not as a simple economic criminal. Indeed, by closing his university and jailing him for offences of breach of trust and bounced cheques whose authors are often released on fines without trial, the Rwandan regime was intending to humiliate the former prime minister. Any analyst may easily detect that the Kigali regime was really punishing a politician who did serve it as expected. In this respect, among the reproaches against him, there is then referred to the case of Alfred Nsengimana former Executive secretary of Cyuve sector in Musanze district who was shot dead while answering charges of collaborating with the FDLR and aiding attacks that claimed lives. Prosecution charged the suspects with among others; murder, colluding with terrorists, treason, belonging to a terrorist group with aim of overthrowing government among others. Unfortunately, without tangible proofs, the name of the premier who is parent of the late executive secretary was mentioned. There is also raised in the political milieu that he did not perform well his tasks of mobilization during the presidential campaign. and the simple way was to impoverish him and deprive him from freedom by detaining him and then imprisoning him. 

Conclusion

In Rwanda, titles are overtly useless, except that of the head of state. The detention and imprisonment of a former prime minister for lower offences is shameful especially since other citizens prosecuted for the same crimes are provisionally released. By raising issues doubtful identities and address, risks of escaping justice and other pretexts to motivate the provisional detention, the courts the courts confirm that the Rwandan state is able to appoint at the highest level people without identity and in whom it does not have full confidence. What a pitiful country.    

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