There are “close links” between the Rwandan government and the main suspects in the 2013 assassination of exiled Rwandan dissident Patrick Karegeya, according to a newly disclosed letter from South African prosecutors.
The letter is of “vital importance” and yet was never disclosed until now, a South African judge said in a court ruling on Monday.
The letter further corroborates a 2014 investigation by The Globe and Mail, which revealed the role of the Rwandan government in plots to assassinate Rwandan dissidents in South Africa.
Mr. Karegeya, a former Rwandan spy chief and close aide to Rwandan President Paul Kagame who later became a leading opponent of the government, was found dead in a luxury hotel room in Johannesburg on Jan. 1, 2014. He is believed to have been strangled to death the previous night by Rwandan suspects who fled back to Rwanda within hours.
Police identified the main suspects within weeks, yet their investigation inexplicably fell dormant for several years. An inquest was finally due to begin this month, but Mr. Karegeya’s family has argued that prosecutors should file criminal charges against the suspects without waiting for the inquest.
Justice Mashiane Mathopa, in his ruling on Monday, ordered the South African police investigators to explain “what, if any, steps have been taken to arrest the Rwandan suspects, since their whereabouts and their identity are known.” He gave them two weeks to comply with his ruling.
The police investigation began “like a house on fire” after the killing, but then faded into stagnation by 2015, Justice Mathopa said. Key DNA evidence was gathered, but it is unclear if it was ever analyzed properly, he said.
A lawyer for the Karegeya family has suggested that the case was blocked by “political meddling.” The South African government has been trying to restore relations with Rwanda in recent years after an earlier rupture caused by the Karegeya assassination, South Africa’s subsequent decision to expel three Rwandan diplomats who were allegedly involved in Mr. Karegeya’s slaying and the attempted killing of another Rwandan dissident.
The letter by the South African prosecutors, written in June, 2018, makes it clear that “the prosecution knows who and where the suspects are and what needs to be done,” Justice Mathopa said on Monday.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” the judge said. He added, quoting a proverb in the Sepedi language: “The longer it takes to deal with a matter, the harder it becomes.”
There is no extradition treaty between South Africa and Rwanda, but South Africa could still request Rwanda’s co-operation in sending the suspects to South Africa, lawyers say. South Africa could also issue an international warrant for the suspects to be arrested if they travel to other countries, the lawyers say.
The inquest into Mr. Karegeya’s death, requested by the prosecutors, does not enjoy “public confidence” and would be “premature” at a time when key evidence is still not completed and nothing has been done to arrest the suspects, Justice Mathopa said.
He ordered the inquest to be postponed, and he gave a 14-day deadline for prosecutors to comply with his order to resolve the discrepancies in the evidence and to show what steps they have taken to arrest the suspects.
Mr. Karegeya’s family members said they are overjoyed at the judge’s ruling, which they see as a long-awaited breakthrough in the case. After more than five years of waiting for justice, they said they are increasingly hopeful that the truth will now emerge.
“I think it’s a huge victory for justice,” said Gerrie Nel, a lawyer for the Karegeya family.
He predicted that the police investigation will now speed up. “We’ll follow it to ensure that the police do what was ordered.”
Mr. Karegeya’s widow, Leah, said she is more hopeful now. “The judge is giving 14 days to put things right. We’ve waited five years, so we’re ready to wait another 14 days. The pressure we’ve applied has worked, and we can see that they’re trying their best now. By the grace of God, the truth will come out, the truth will prevail.”
Mr. Karegeya’s nephew, David Batenga, said the judge’s ruling will finally ensure action in the long-stalled case. “There was extreme effort in 2014, and then nothing happened. There were so many gaps, so many lapses. But it is out in the open now. The judge has made pronouncements and they have to make sure they’re doing things by the book. This attention should have happened a long time ago.”
A spokeswoman for the national prosecuting authority, Phindi Mjonondwana, said the judge’s ruling was a “fair judgment” that will provide better information for a decision in the case.
The Karegeya case has attracted global attention. Human Rights Watch, in a statement, said the case is further evidence that Rwandan dissidents face the risk of “threats, enforced disappearances, unlawful arrest, detention and torture.”
Mr. Kagame’s own statements, just two weeks after the Karegeya assassination, showed that he “came close to condoning” the killing, Human Rights Watch said.
Those who criticize the Rwandan people are now aware of “how far they go to protect their own nation,” Mr. Kagame’s office said on Twitter after the assassination. And in a public speech on the same day, Mr. Kagame said: “Those who betray the country will pay the price.”