Suspects To Appear Before Court In Fertilizer 'Mafia Network' After Three Months Behind Bars #rwanda #RwOT

A tough legal battle is expected to ensue between prosecutors and lawyers at the Gasabo Intermediate Court this Friday, October 16, 2020, where the prosecution will be presenting a case involving some of the suspects charged with conniving with officials in a syndicated fertilizer mafia network that has made government lose billions of Rwandan francs.

Others will be presented on October 22, 2020.

The suspects, who were arrested on June 29, 2020, under legally challengeable circumstances, will be appearing before the court for a substantive hearing.

On July 6, 2020, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Resources (MINAGRI), Jean Claude Musabyimana, after being squeezed at a high-level RPF meeting (NEC) by President Paul Kagame for cases of alleged corruption, misuse, and misappropriation of state-funded distribution of fertilizers, submitted a dossier to Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) for investigation and subsequent prosecution.

Meanwhile, legal experts challenge that it is technically impossible for MINAGRI to have been able to produce a credible material against a dozen suspects in just one week.

The dossier contained 19 distributors of fertilizers and the amount of money they allegedly owe the government. Taarifa has the files submitted by MINAGRI and some of the interrogation files conducted by RIB.

After interrogations and investigations, some of the charges laid include forgery under Article 276 of the Penal code act and tampering with exhibits subject to provisions of article 245 of the penal code act. Notably, almost all suspects are charged with the same crimes.

However, in the dossier submitted by MINAGRI, the Permanent Secretary (PS) made four grave allegations against distributors. First, MINAGRI alleged that distributors never produced lists of beneficiaries, yet the list is made by local authorities together with MINAGRI, RAB, contracted experts by RAB, and other agencies.

Secondly, MINAGRI alleges that distributors cannot prove that fertilizers were delivered to the intended beneficiaries, yet MINAGRI has worked with these suppliers since 2008. Alleging that suppliers never delivered fertilizers to intended beneficiaries and accusing them of making ghost lists, does not only leave MINAGRI in a difficult position to prove beyond doubt but raises serious questions about the motive of such a blatant allegation.

Taarifa's investigations, and after thorough digging into files from MINAGRI and suppliers, we discovered indisputable evidence that farmers received fertilizers, and instead, there was actually excessive supply and in other cases according to documents signed by MINAGRI and RAB staff, fertilizers were swindled and sold off as far as Burundi and Uganda by some distributors. The third allegation made by MINAGRI is that distributors do not possess original lists of beneficiaries, yet MINAGRI collects all original lists as a basis for processing payments.

The fourth allegation is financial. MINAGRI says these suppliers owe it over Rwf9 billion in arrears that were supposed to be from funds collected from farmers. Indeed some suppliers did not disburse the funds collected, but some suppliers actually are owed. Taarifa has seen some of the documents where MINAGRI, district, and sector authorities excuse themselves for not paying the suppliers as per contractual terms. However, these suppliers are among the suspects to be assembled before the court where the prosecution accuses them of swindling the said funds.

RIB received the above submissions by MINAGRI and interrogated all suspects. The prosecution also conducted further investigations. Some of MINAGRI's allegations were dismissed, and others upheld.

However, some of the prosecution's preferred charges against suspects, such as forgery and tampering with exhibits, defendant's lawyers say, will be challenged before the court. For example, defense teams say that they want the prosecution to explain how they accuse their clients of forging vouchers with a QR code yet only MINAGRI has the ability to produce the vouchers.

On the other hand, the prosecution is ready to present evidence that some suppliers had indeed submitted vouchers beyond what would match with the list of beneficiaries approved by MINAGRI. How they obtained the vouchers and from which people will remain the burden of the prosecutors, even though it does not exonerate the suppliers who used them to illegally demand for money from MINAGRI.

Taarifa has seen letters singed by MINAGRI's Head of Fertilizer Task Force, Dr. Charles Murekezi, to some suppliers informing them that they would not receive payment for extra vouchers submitted. During interrogations and investigations, Dr. Murekezi was squeezed by interrogators to explain why he never reported cases of submitted extra vouchers to investigators and prosecution. In his defense, he said that he believed that not paying them was enough punishment, yet sources indicate that MINAGRI continued contracting and paying them for over three years. Further interrogations made Dr. Murekezi implicate his bosses. He told interrogators that he reported the case to his bosses and that he believed that it is the responsibility of the Ministry to take legal action against any suspect after he had submitted a report.

However, neither the Minister nor the PS was interrogated both on how suppliers were able to access vouchers and generating a list of ghost beneficiaries to justify the vouchers and why there was no action taken. In our previous article, when asked to respond to these allegations, the Minister said that she cannot comment on a case that is under legal due process.

Taarifa understands that the Auditor General, Obadia Biraro, who has repeatedly exposed the fertilizer scandal in his annual reports for over a decade, was consulted and indeed submitted his technical opinion.

Meanwhile, a source has told Taarifa that some suspects were released by buying their freedom upon depositing all or some money they allegedly owe the government collected from the disbursed funds by farmers. Other suspects declined to do so because they were advised by their lawyers that it was a trap to implicate themselves and instead wait to tussle their way out before the court.

Meanwhile, the former head of the Task Force, Francois Nsengiyunva, was interrogated as a witness in the case. He told the prosecution that in the contracts with suppliers, it was the duty of authorities to follow up with farmers regarding payments. However, he added that there were cases in some seasons where farmers made losses due to poor yields. Their debts would be written off after consultations with MINAGRI experts. Suppliers would only be paid distribution fees.

In this whole fertilizer scandal, some suspects will face charges of illegally obtaining vouchers that facilitated them to secure stocks or redeeming them to obtain money. Other suspects will challenge the prosecution to be pronounced innocent and released and instead be paid arrears owed to them. Those who are accused of tampering with exhibits are ready to challenge the prosecution to explain the relevancy of the allegation yet it has copies of the said exhibits. No official from MINAGRI or local authorities is yet to be aligned before the court to answer charges of possible involvement.

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