The Rwanda government now claims that Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa and his associates embezzled US$458,058 in 2011 from the Union Trade Centre (UTC) which the same government seized in 2013, and auctioned off in 2017. This is a futile face-saving maneuver after the East Court of Justice determined in 2020 that the government seizure and the auctioning off UTC were illegal.
Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa Continues To Be Illegally Prosecuted By The Rwandan Government
The UTC case dates back to 2013 when the Rwanda government seized the US$20 million shopping mall from Ayabatwa. To justify its seizure, the government claimed that UTC was an abandoned property because Ayabatwa resided outside Rwanda. This, of course, was not true. UTC hosted more than 80 thriving businesses which collectively employed nearly 500 workers and was managed by a strong local team in good standing with the National Registrar of Companies at Rwanda Development Board (RDB). Nevertheless, the government seized UTC and revoked Ayabatwa’s citizenship, despite the fact that he is a native-born Rwandan whose citizenship is guaranteed by the Constitution.
In August 2015, the government declared UTC a tax defaulter in the amount of US$1.4 million. What made this proclamation absurd was that the government was managing UTC since seizing it in 2013, and had been collecting rents from businesses for the previous two years. Essentially, this meant that the government defrauded itself of tax revenue, and then used this unlawful activity as justification to declare UTC a tax defaulter.
After two years of threats, the government auctioned UTC for a mere US$8 million in 2017, despite the fact that the property was worth at least US$20 million. The Rwandan government had also collected approximately US$7 million of rent during the four years that UTC was under government control.
Failing to get justice in his homeland, Ayabatwa took the Rwanda government to the East African Court of Justice (EACJ), which ruled on November 28, 2020 that both the seizure of UTC in 2013, and the subsequent auctioning off the shopping mall in 2017 were illegal.
To remedy this transgression, the EACJ ordered the Rwanda government to do four things: (1) Account for the rental and sale proceeds realized from the UTC mall between 1st October 2013 to 27th September 2017; (2) Compensate general damages to the amount of US$$500,000; (3) Add to the compensation 6% per annum from the date of judgement until full payment; (4) Pay Court costs. While Ayabatwa was pleased by the favorable Court decision, he nonetheless appealed the judgement as he had no intention of selling the mall. He wishes to recover assets that were illegally seized by the government of Rwanda.
Rwandan Government Opens New Case Against Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa
Now, in a bizarre development, the Rwandan government has opened a new case alleging that on September 12, 2011, Ayabatwa and his associates embezzled RWF454,528,531 or US$458,058 from UTC. Asked to comment on the new case, Ayabatwa had the following to say: “The US$458,058 being cited as a fraud was in fact a loan I acquired during the construction of the mall. UTC accounts including the said loan were approved by Rwanda Revenue Authority in their 2011 audit.
How is it that the Rwandan authorities just discovered that I “stole” money from my own business 10 years ago? This legal maneuver introduced after the government lost the UTC case in EACJ is simply not credible. We categorically reject this absurd allegation.”
Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa is a pan-African industrialist. He is the founder and controlling shareholder of the Pan African Tobacco Group, Africa’s largest indigenous manufacturer of tobacco products. The company, which in 2018 celebrated its 40th year of operations, manufactures cigarettes in nine African countries, namely, Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and the United Arab Emirates.
Ayabatwa is also one of Africa’s leading philanthropists. He has helped communities uplift themselves in fields such as education, food security, afforestation, and water-access. Through his non-profit foundation, Ayababwa strives to help young people to gain the practical engineering experience required to enter the job market in Africa. More recently, Ayabatwa assisted governments in the battle against the Covid19 pandemic by contributing medical equipment and foodstuffs during the lockdowns.