Rujugiro Ayabatwa Tribert loses at Kigali Court

Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa, pan-African industrialist, and founder of UTC

By The Rwandan Lawyer

While he had won over Rwandan State before the East African Court of Justice, the Rwandan tycoon Rujugiro Ayabatwa Tribert lost his cause before the Rwandan intermediate court of Nyarugenge in a by default judgment where he was prosecuted for forgery, falsification and use of forged documents. The issue discussed hereby relates to these divergent decisions assessing the relevance of arguments alleged to identify the fairly ruled trial between them.

The litigation submitted to the East African Court of Justice by Rujugiro Ayabatwa Tribert was attacking the Rwandan decision to sell in auction the building of UTC belonging the tycoon for tax penalties and it was bought by a company owning the Kigali City Market which belongs to General Kabarebe James, former Minister of Defence and currently senior military advisor of the Rwandan President. Fact which insinuates that it’s the State which is really forcibly appropriating property of a citizen with whom it is in conflict.

The EACJ examined the case and declared the auction illegal and consequently ordered to transfer the amount from this auction to the Rwandan businessman.

On its side. The Rwandan public prosecution instituted a criminal action before the intermediate court of Nyarugenge prosecuting jointly Rujugiro Tribert; Uwantege Mutambuka Annick and Nicolas Watson for forgery, falsification and use of forged documents where they are accused to have invented a debt of UTC to Rujugiro Tribert and to get the amount the latter proceeded to a claim cession to Nicolas Watson who is therefore considered as an accomplice to impoverish the UTC where Rujugiro Tribert holds 97% of shares.In a interview with VOA, the trader rejected the charges alleging that he UTC owed him money and the claim was ceded to Nicolas Watson; concerning the fact that the owners of 3% of shares were not informed about this transaction, he explained that in their statute the holder of more than 76% of share is entitled to take decisions without requiring opinion from the minority. Asked about the decision of the EACJ, he replied that court ruling was fair but instead of ordering the reimbursement of money of auction it may rather decide to cancel the auction per se and give back the premises of UTC to their owner the reason why he appealed against this regional court’s judgment.

On the side of Rwanda, the intermediate court of Nyarugenge declared the three co-offenders guilty of forgery, falsification and use of forged documents and sentenced each one to 10 years of imprisonment and 2 billion of Rwandan francs. The Rwandan richest trader rejects this judgment alleging that it might have conducted as a civil case where he may have been represented by his advocates and that he was not notified of its schedule so that he may exercise his rights of defence.


The two judicial decisions rendered by a domestic court and a regional court prompt us to single out a series of legal and political observations underpinned by those contradictory rulings.

Issue of relevance 

The decision of selling in auction the building of UTC was rejected by Rujugiro Tribert who wondered why selling these premises for unpaid taxes while meantime the state had seized the rents of this house during more than five years. Besides, if the statutes of the Union Trade Center grant to the majority shareholder to unilaterally decide without consulting the minority shareholders and if the UTC debt to Rujugiro Tribert and claim cession are not fictive to mean if they are based on documents, the public prosecution had no legal grounds to trigger the proceedings. 

Issue of precedence of judgments

As principle, the rulings of a regional court must prevail over domestic decisions and in this context the judgment issued by the East African Court of Justice may have been enforced in Rwanda and may have cancelled the auction made and the prosecution may have not instituted that absurd action. However, as observed throughout Africa, judgments rendered by communitarian courts such as COMESSA court; ECOWAS court, SADEC court; EACJ against members of those regional communities are often rejected and scarcely enforced. Consequently, Rujugiro Tribert will have won before the East African Court if Justice against Rwanda but this will remain theoretical and thus will not impact on the domestic judicial decisions given that the international law on which the existence of this court is based is conventional and is deprived of coercive nature to materialize the involvements of rulings.

Political involvements

Given that Rujugiro Tribert is a political opponent to the Kigali regime, it is obvious that the prosecution seeks all means to incriminate him and it is easy to convict and sentence someone who is absent because he does not benefit from his judicial rights to personally defend himself and resort to all defence means established by the international covenant on civil and political rights especially in its article 14; the African chart on human and people’s rights in its article 9.

Even if Rujugiro Tribert possesses many properties in the country, daring coming back in Rwanda will automatically entail his arrest and imprisonment; the reason why he will have theoretically gained suits but the effectiveness of the decisions of this communitarian court is rarely insured; member states of EACJ hardly comply with rulings in which they lost.


Having lost the cause at the regional level where the EACJ established that auctions organized in Rwanda over the UTC are unlawful and infringe rights of its owner Rujugiro Tribert, Rwanda takes revenge by instituting proceedings against the tycoon on the basis of trumped-up charges. Consequently, Rujugiro Tribert lost the case in Rwanda where he cannot physically appear unless he decides to expose himself to prison where he will be officially punished for crimes allegedly committed but really, he will be being sanctioned for his political position against the regime of Kigali which accuses him to support the opposition platforms operating abroad. What is the effect of these contradictory judgments? Overtly, the ruling from Rwanda courts is politicized while that from EACJ is fear but it cannot materially be enforced. Indeed, the law of the strongest is always applicable in our region and all decisions become futile when they are unfavorable to him.