(Left) South African State prosecutor Gerrie Nel EPA/SIPHIWE SIBEKO; (Right) Rwanda’s former intelligence chief Colonel Patrick Karegeya (supplied)
(Left) South African State prosecutor Gerrie Nel EPA/SIPHIWE SIBEKO; (Right) Rwanda’s former intelligence chief Colonel Patrick Karegeya (supplied)

A Randburg magistrate has ordered the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to make up its mind whether or not it intends prosecuting the four Rwandan nationals suspected of murdering Rwanda’s former intelligence chief Colonel Patrick Karegeya in Sandton in 2013.

If it decides not to, former public prosecutor Gerrie Nel, now a private prosecutor, has vowed that he will launch a private prosecution. 

Evidence emerged in the Randburg magistrate’s court on Thursday that the South African authorities had for five years failed to prosecute the four suspects because they believed the Rwandan government was behind Karegeya’s killing and there was, therefore, no chance of Rwanda extraditing them from Rwanda to stand trial in South Africa.

However, the NPA has now been put under pressure by Randburg Magistrate Mashiane Mathopa to take action regardless of the awkward political circumstances of the case. He told members of Karegeya’s family and lawyers in an informal inquest on Thursday that there was a prima facie case against the four suspects, whose names and identity numbers have been known to the SA police for five years.

Nel, the head of Afriforum’s private prosecuting unit who is representing Karegeya’s family in the inquest proceedings, said the investigating officer in the case had indicated in testimony to the court “that no steps were taken as the relationship between South Africa and Rwanda played a role in the decision not to track down the suspects. “

He told journalists the only inference one could draw from the investigating officer’s testimony was that there must have been political interference in the case and an abuse of process.

The magistrate’s judgement requires further action from the NPA as persons whose identities are known, committed a crime in South Africa. This decision will make it very difficult for the NPA to decide not to prosecute,” Nel added. 

And he said if the NPA “once again fails to pursue justice,” he would apply for a nolle prosequicertificate after three months. This would enable him to launch a private prosecution.

The chief investigating officer in the case Lieutenant-Colonel Kwena Motlhamme gave written testimony to the court that the police investigation of Karegeya’s death had revealed that the suspects had left South Africa immediately after the crime.

Two months later, another Rwandan national General Kayumba Nyamwasa (ex-Rwandan military chief of staff) was also attacked in Johannesburg “with a view of assassinating him”.

These two incidents, together with several other attempts on the lives of both General Nyamwasa and the deceased in this case, were directly linked to the involvement of the Rwandan Government.”

Motlhamme said the lack of an extradition treaty between SA and Rwanda had made attempts to locate the identified suspects almost impossible. It had also been “very impossible” to get them back from Rwanda to face trials. 

The suspected involvement of the Rwanda government is believed to be the reason that this case was effectively shelved for five years. A formal inquest into Karegeya’s death was eventually due to start in the same Randburg magistrate’s court in January.

But Nel brought an application to have the inquest cancelled because he the police and NPA already had enough information to launch a prosecution against the four suspects, and so an inquest was superfluous. 

Mathopa agreed and struck the inquest off the roll. He ordered Motlhamme and the NPA to tell the court what efforts they had made to prosecute the four suspects. 

Thursday’s informal inquest was called so that Mathopa could inform the family members and the lawyers what the response from the police and NPA had been and to announce his decision that the NPA must decide if it intended prosecuting the suspects. 

Should the NPA, Hawks and SAPS fail to prosecute the suspects in this case, it would mean that South Africa has become a haven for assassins” Nel said. 

The court’s decision, however, sends a message to the police and NPA that they cannot fail to prosecute criminals simply because these criminals have political connections. We hope that the NPA will now fulfil their legal responsibility and prosecute these suspects to the full extent of the law.”

Karegeya’s widow Leah Karegeya travelled from her home in the US to attend Thursday’s informal inquest. She told the Guardian that the court had confirmed that the Rwandan government was behind his death. 

Karegeya was found dead in a bedroom of a luxury Sandton hotel on January 1, 2014. It is believed he had been strangled to death the day before.

He and Nyamwasa were once close associates to Rwandan President Paul Kagame but later fell out with him and fled to South Africa. They then helped establish a political party the Rwanda National Congress which is banned inside Rwanda because the Rwandan government brands it as a terrorist organisation. Party leaders insist it is only working for peaceful political change in Rwanda. DM