Court strikes Karegeya case from the roll in bombshell ruling

The Karegeya case has ignited intrigue and speculation because of the high-profile nature of those involved. (Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images)

The Karegeya case has ignited intrigue and speculation because of the high-profile nature of those involved. (Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s been five years since Rwandan spy boss Patrick Karegeya was assassinated in Johannesburg, but South African authorities working on the case have been dealt a blow after the Randburg magistrate’s court struck the case from the roll due to inadequate investigations.

The Karegeya case has ignited intrigue and speculation because of the high-profile nature of those involved. Karegeya was at the luxury Michelangelo hotel in Sandton on the night of his killing which police established was caused by strangulation. He had fled Rwanda after falling out with the government and, on the run from President Paul Kagame’s wrath, he sought refuge in South Africa.

Karegeya and Kagame had once been close friends. After the Rwandan genocide, Karegeya rose to become the country’s external military chief, and was accused of hunting down opponents of the government and ensuring they were dealt with. After he became a dissident, he snuck into South Africa seeking asylum.

On Monday, in a small nondescript courtroom, Karegeya’s case was struck from the roll in an unexpected twist. The drama around the case had been unfolding for five years, with Karegeya’s family lodging accusations that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the police were failing to do their job.

Magistrate Jeremiah Matopa gave credence to the Karegeya family’s concerns saying the docket in Karegeya’s case was missing documents and outstanding evidence. He gave the investigating officer a deadline of 14 days to submit all missing evidence.

“The magistrate is therefore removing this matter from the roll due to a number of outstanding statements, documents, and information that requires to be investigated,” Matopa said in his ruling.

Matopa made the ruling after the family had submitted an application asking the court to suspend the inquest until the police explain their “failure… to successfully solve this crime and thereby ensure that criminal proceedings could not be instituted”. They characterised the delay in prosecution as the “irresistible interference of political meddling or a prohibition to proficiently investigate the identified perpetrators”.

The Hawks have already identified the four men who are accused of Karegeya’s murder. Their dates of birth and passport numbers are known to the Hawks. All four are Rwandan nationals who the Hawks believe fled South Africa after Karegeya’s murder. This information is contained in a statement made by one of the investigating officers and attached to the family’s court papers.

Karegeya’s widow, Leah, listened intently while the ruling was delivered. She sat next to her nephew, David Batenga, who had raised the alarm bells at the Michelangelo that his uncle’s room needed to be opened in 2013.

Leah traveled from the United States, where she lives in exile, to hear the court proceedings on her husband’s killing. She was flanked by members of the Rwandan National Congress (RNC), a political party that opposed the government. Karegeya had been a founding member of the party.

She reacted to the ruling with optimism, saying that even if it would further delay her husband’s case, it was a step closer to a proper investigation into the murder and her family’s closure.

“I have more hope today, because at least the pressure we are putting has worked out and they [the court] are also trying their best to work,” she said.

Matopa revealed in his ruling that the NPA, in documents it had submitted to the court, had made a definitive “link” between the suspects accused of Karegeya’s murder and the Rwandan government. He did not elaborate on what the link was, however.

But he censured the police for the gaps in the investigation. Matopa ruled that within 14 days the investigating officer would have to answer to the court about what had been done to arrest the suspects since their identity had become known and what the police had done to locate the suspects as the NPA had requested. 

He further instructed the police to answer to allegations made by a forensic laboratory handling the case evidence. The lab cited “discrepancies” in two sealed bags containing evidence and one exhibit. Correspondence to police from July 2014 seemingly received no response, Matopa noted.

His final instruction was that the police should ensure all statements are attested and should explain why some statements and documents contained in the docket are not original copies.

The NPA has been working with the police on the case. Phindi Louw-Mjonondwane, the NPA’s spokesperson in Gauteng, reacted to the ruling, saying that the law enforcement would work together to meet the court’s deadline.

“If the court has found fault in some of us as law enforcement authorities, it’s upon us to work as acollective to ensure we assist another in ensuring that we meet the court’s deadline,” she said.

The NPA said the case should be handled in an inquest rather than prosecution because it could not obtain all the information it required — including statements from the suspects, according to letters from the NPA submitted in court. South Africa does not have an extradition treaty with Rwanda, but Kennedy Gihana, the attorney for the Karegeya family, said the South African government could have liaised with the Rwandan government for the suspects to be handed over.

The family believes however, that there has been no action to arrest the suspects given the complexities of the case. 

For now, the case seems to be suspended pending the police response to Matopa’s deadline. 

Ra'eesa Pather

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