The latest round of defamatory attacks on Ayabatwa began with baseless allegations in a report sponsored by an organization called the Counter Extremism Project. Authored by Sir Ivor Roberts, the report portrays Ayabatwa as a man deeply engaged in all manner of illegal activities across the East African region and beyond. Then, the New Times, a newspaper owned by the Rwandan ruling party recycled the defamatory rhetoric. In light of his claim that his document is a credible tool for informing global decision-makers, Roberts’ report is a spectacular scandal.
Sir Ivor Roberts Won’t Intimidate Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa
‘The Report titled “An Unholy Alliance: Links Between Extremism and Illicit Trade” authored by Sir Roberts, a retired British diplomat, was recently launched by an organization called the Counter Extremism Project. Roberts declares Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa a perpetrator of all manner of criminal activities in East Africa. Roberts’ scathing attack on Ayabatwa begins with labeling Ayabatwa a financier of armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the 2000s. Roberts then claims that Ayabatwa is similarly financing armed groups fighting the government of Rwanda. Roberts further asserts that Ayabatwa and his companies are deeply involved in smuggling cigarettes across borders in the region. To support his allegation that Ayabatwa financed armed groups, Roberts cites the 2008 United Nations’ Group of Experts’ Report that accused Ayabatwa of such activities. In the case of his assertion that Ayabatwa is engaged in illicit cigarette trade, Roberts’ evidence is that Ayabatwa “pleaded guilty to tax evasion before a South African court in 2009.” Roberts does not bother to corroborate his other assertions, including the allegation that Ayabatwa finances groups fighting the government of Rwanda.
Roberts’ Report should embarrass the Counter Extremism Project, the organization that commissioned this document. The defamatory rhetoric against Ayabatwa immediately collapses upon the slightest scrutiny. Begin with Roberts’ citation of the 2008 United Nations’ Group of Experts as proof that Ayabatwa financed the armed groups in DRC. Had Roberts done any serious investigation of the matter, he would have discovered that the United Nations’ Group of Experts subsequently concluded that Ayabatwa was not involved in financing armed groups in DRC. The United Nations’ Group of Experts confirmed that Ayabatwa has never been designated by the United Nations Security Council as a financier of armed groups and that at no time was he subject to the United Nations’ travel ban or assets freeze. Individuals or entities found guilty of financing armed groups are subjected to the United Nations’ travel ban and assets freeze.
Embarrassingly, either Roberts was not aware of, or deliberately chose not to consult the United Nations Security Council’s Consolidated List (https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/content/un-sc-consolidated-list). The Consolidated List includes all individuals and entities subject to measures imposed by the Security Council. Had Roberts undertaken such basic research and due process, he would not have made the grave error he committed in this case.
Perhaps the most scandalous part of Roberts’ report is the claim that Ayabatwa was found guilty of smuggling cigarettes across borders because Ayabatwa “pleaded guilty to tax evasion before a South African court in 2009.” Once again, had Roberts done basic research on the matter, he would have discovered that the South African case was settled out of court, a legal outcome that is hardly unusual. It is widely known that the majority of business disputes are settled outside a court of law — from 80 to 90 percent by some estimates.
Did Sir Ivor Roberts Have All The Facts?
Lastly, the predictable celebration of Roberts’ shoddy report was in Rwanda, Ayabatwa’s homeland in which the government illegally seized his businesses, including his US$20 million shopping mall. The Rwandan government then revoked Ayabatwa’s passport even though he is a citizen by birth. The seizure of the mall was ruled illegal by the East African Court of Justice, which ordered the Rwandan government to compensate Ayabatwa. Roberts’ libellous report appears to have given the Rwandan authorities some kind of victory against Ayabatwa. The Rwandan government-owned newspaper, the New Times, jumped on Roberts’ bandwagon with a celebratory headline that the “New report pins Tribert Rujugiro on illicit dealings and terrorism financing.” The New Times further complimented the Counter Extremism Project by calling it an organization “led by a renowned group of former world leaders and diplomats.” One thing is for sure. While Roberts is a hero to some people for defaming Ayabatwa, the retired British diplomat must account for his libelous writing about a subject and a region he knows so little about. Character assassination has consequences.