South African prosecutors have enough evidence to file criminal charges against four Rwandan suspects in the assassination of Rwandan dissident Patrick Karegeya, but they mysteriously decided to shelve the evidence for five years, an inquest has been told.
The most likely explanation is that “political meddling” has blocked the charges, Karegeya family lawyer Gerrie Nel told the inquest Wednesday.
Mr. Nel, who gained fame as the prosecutor in the murder trial of Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius, has filed an application to shut down the inquest into the dissident’s death and compel the authorities to instead complete their investigation so that the four Rwandan suspects can be extradited to South Africa for prosecution.
“We know who the suspects are,” he said. “We should prosecute now.”
Police have never arrested anyone in connection with the shocking murder of Col. Karegeya, the former Rwandan spy chief who became a refugee in South Africa after a falling out with his former close ally, Rwandan President Paul Kagame. He was strangled to death in the luxury Michelangelo Towers hotel in Johannesburg on Dec. 31, 2013.
The four Rwandan suspects fled from South Africa within hours of the murder. The Kagame government openly proclaimed that the dissident had suffered the consequences of his “betrayal” of his country. “When you choose to be a dog, you die like a dog, and the cleaners will wipe away the trash,” Rwandan defence minister James Kabarebe said at the time.
An investigation by The Globe and Mail in 2014 found evidence the Rwandan government has repeatedly recruited agents for plots to assassinate Col. Karegeya and other dissidents in South Africa and elsewhere.
Col. Karegeya’s widow, Leah, told reporters on Wednesday that she is convinced the Rwandan government had applied political pressure on South Africa to shut down the prosecution of the four suspects.
After the Karegeya murder and several assassination attempts on another Rwandan dissident, South Africa expelled three Rwandan diplomats in 2014, accusing them of direct links to the assassination plots. Since then, relations between the two countries have been frosty, but South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has been trying to improve relations with Mr. Kagame since a meeting in Rwanda last March.
The inquest into the Karegeya murder was scheduled to begin Wednesday, with more than 30 witnesses lined up to testify over the next several weeks. But Mr. Nel argued that the inquest was merely an attempt by prosecutors to “cover up” the absence of criminal charges against the suspects. He called it an “abuse” of the courts.
The inquest judge will rule on his application on Monday.
Police had gathered most of the evidence in January, 2014, within weeks of the murder, and the four suspects were quickly identified, yet nothing was done to complete the investigation and file charges, Mr. Nel said.
The last recorded evidence in the case docket was obtained in April, 2015, and no further steps were taken, he said. One of the suspects has travelled widely in Europe and elsewhere, yet South Africa has never sought his arrest, he said.
“Inexplicably, there is no indication that any steps were taken to trace the suspects,” Mr. Nel said in his written submission to the inquest judge. “There was no contact with Interpol or any other international law-enforcement agency. There was no attempt to obtain any evidence by means of a request for legal assistance and there were no attempts to extradite the suspects.”
Known witnesses who could have identified the suspects and explained their motives were never approached by police investigators, Mr. Nel said, and crucial DNA evidence was not gathered until this month – five years after the murder.
The assassination of Col. Karegeya was “intrinsically linked to the political situation in Rwanda,” Mr. Nel said.
Mr. Nel is the founder of a private prosecutions unit at AfriForum, a lobby group that defends the rights of the white Afrikaner minority in South Africa. The unit represents citizens of all races in cases in which the state prosecutors refuse to file charges despite evidence of crimes. The family of Col. Karegeya asked the unit for help after several years of delays in the police investigation.
South Africa must not become a hunting ground for assassins to commit crimes and escape justice, Mr. Nel said.
A spokeswoman for South Africa’s national prosecuting authority told local media that the allegations of a cover-up or political meddling were untrue.
The prosecutor at the inquest, Yusuf Baba, released a letter dated June, 2018, in which a senior director of prosecutions said that no prosecution should be launched in the Karegeya case “at this stage,” and an inquest should be held. The court has no jurisdiction to overturn a decision by the national prosecuting authority, Mr. Baba told the inquest.