The estate of the late Assinapol Rwigara was auctioned without the knowledge of his heirs

On April 24, 2024, a significant event unfolded in Kiyovu, Kigali, Rwanda, as the estate of the late Assinapol Rwigara was auctioned without the knowledge of his heirs. Sun Belt Textiles Rwanda Ltd acquired the property located on a 1867 square meter plot for 1.478 billion Rwandan Francs.

The auction, which was the second attempt following the family’s unsuccessful effort to invalidate the previous one, became contentious due to allegations of unpaid debts totaling over 349 million to COGEBANK, claimed by the tobacco company PTC, which was owned by Rwigara. In contrast, the Rwigara family has consistently disputed these claims, stating that no additional debts existed beyond those previously acknowledged and settled.

Legal representations have been turbulent. Maitre Gatera Gashabana, representing the Rwigara family, filed a lawsuit in the Commercial Court demanding the auction’s cancellation, arguing it was conducted improperly. This legal challenge follows a history of disputes including a 2017 court ruling by the High Commercial Court that initially protected four of Rwigara’s properties from auction, a ruling which the latest proceedings have seemingly overlooked.

The legal struggles have extended over the years, including a pronounced incident in 2021, when attorney Janvier Rwagatare, before his death, defended the Rwigara family against COGEBANK’s claims, which were ultimately dismissed by the court as legally flawed. By 2023, the appeal had faltered due to the absence of legal representation following Rwagatare’s death, leading the judge to dismiss the case from the court records, leaving the family without legal defense.

The saga of the Rwigara family has been marred by tragedy and controversy. Assinapol Rwigara, who died in 2015 under circumstances the family attributes to political foul play by the Rwandan government, has been a figure of significant political and social tension. In 2016, a hotel owned by Rwigara was demolished by the government, citing regulatory violations, and in 2018, the entire tobacco factory and its assets were auctioned off, with the Rwanda Revenue Authority claiming 6 billion Rwandan Francs in evaded taxes. These actions occurred alongside the arrest and subsequent acquittal of Diane Rwigara and her mother on charges related to Diane’s barred presidential candidacy in 2017.

The Rwigara family’s plight highlights ongoing tensions with the Rwandan government, which they claim are rooted in political motives, specifically linked to Assinapol Rwigara’s previous support for the Rwandan Patriotic Front during its armed struggle. This situation has left the Rwigara family in a continuous battle for their property and rights, underscoring a complex web of legal and political challenges.