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Rwanda accused of protecting suspects in South Africa murder case

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More than six years after Rwandan dissident Patrick Karegeya was strangled to death in a luxury hotel room in Johannesburg, his family is still waiting to see whether Rwanda will agree to the extradition of two suspects with alleged links to the government of President Paul Kagame.

A letter by the National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa, obtained by The Globe and Mail, shows the authority processed the extradition request last October and sent it to Rwanda. But there is no sign of movement, and a lawyer for the dissident’s family believes the alleged killers are being protected by Mr. Kagame’s government.

South African police and prosecutors have stated, in documents in court proceedings, that the Rwandan suspects have “close links” to the Kagame government and flew back to Rwanda immediately after the killing on Dec. 31, 2013.

An investigation by The Globe in 2014 found evidence that Rwandan intelligence officials were involved in mobilizing death squads to pursue Rwandan dissidents and opposition activists in exile, including Mr. Karegeya. The government has denied this but has repeatedly denounced the dissidents as traitors and terrorists who must “pay the price.”

Mr. Karegeya, a former head of Rwandan military intelligence, was one of Mr. Kagame’s closest aides for a decade. But the two men had a falling out, and Mr. Karegeya fled into exile and helped found an opposition group, the Rwanda National Congress.

South Africa issued arrest warrants for the two Rwandan citizens – Ismael Gafaranga and Alex Sugira – last August. But the case has been delayed at every step in the process, beginning with a long-stalled police investigation and a postponed inquest.

“The family needs closure, and they feel frustrated,” their lawyer, Kennedy Gihana, told The Globe.

“If Kagame doesn’t have anything to hide, why doesn’t he send the suspects to South Africa to stand trial?”

The family believes the case has been impeded by diplomatic and political negotiations between the two countries – and by South Africa’s desire to avoid a conflict with Rwanda.

“We remain flabbergasted that the South African authorities are not concerned about the flagrant abuse of its territory to hunt down and terminate political targets,” said Gerrie Nel, a legal representative of the Karegeya family, in a letter to the South African Justice Department this month.

A senior official in the National Prosecuting Authority said in April that the authority had “processed” the extradition request in October, 2019. The Justice Department “has advised that the request has since been transmitted to the Government of the Republic of Rwanda,” the official said in the letter obtained by The Globe.

Mr. Kagame’s media adviser, Yolande Makolo, did not reply to messages from The Globe seeking comment on the extradition request. Rwandan officials have repeatedly declined to comment on the allegations against the two Rwandan suspects.

Mr. Nel, head of a private prosecution unit at the South African organization AfriForum, told the South African Justice Department that the delays in the case since 2014 have been “unreasonable” and “somewhat deliberate” and may now be hindering the extradition issue.

He noted that the prosecutors promised last year that South Africa would seek an Interpol “red notice” to allow the two suspects to be arrested if they travel outside Rwanda. But since then, the government has failed to say whether it has formally requested the “red notice,” Mr. Nel said.

He asked the Justice Department to explain what steps it had taken to place the suspects on the Interpol “red list” and to persuade Rwandan authorities to extradite the suspects to South Africa.

In an interview, he said he was disappointed by the South African government’s inaction on a “heinous” crime. “Having gone through all the documentation, there’s just no reasonable explanation for the delay. My only inference is that we’re dealing with a deliberate delay.”

The family has been obliged to struggle to get basic information at every stage of the investigation, he said.

Mr. Gihana, the lawyer for the Karegeya family, said he is not surprised by the lack of action. “Kagame knows there are no consequences because South Africa will stay quiet,” he said.

“But at least the truth has come out. This case will never go away. One day we will see justice.”

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