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Rwanda case's evidence may be excluded

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, April 29, 2010, at 12:03 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, June 8, 2010, at 7:40 a.m.

A federal judge will decide whether to exclude evidence seized last year at the Topeka home of a man accused of participating in Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

U.S. District Judge Monti Belot heard testimony Wednesday from two Virginia men who acted as interpreters of letters, writings and conversations in the Rwandan language by 83-year-old Lazare Kobagaya.

Kobagaya's defense argued that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents improperly seized letters and photographs.

Lawyers Kurt Kerns and Melanie Morgan claim that the warrant overstepped limits in the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Kobagaya is a U.S. citizen.

"It permits a general rummaging through Mr. Kobagaya's papers in the hopes of stumbling upon something that would indicate that he lived in Rwanda in 1994 or participated in genocide," the defense motion stated.

Kobagaya denies participating in the genocide and says he fled Rwanda during ethnic violence which left as many as 700,000 people dead between April and July 1994.

Steven Parker, with the Department of Justice's special investigations unit, said ICE agents seized photographs from 1994 they say show Kobagaya in Rwanda. Parker said agents think the letters and papers talk about the genocide.

Kobagaya's defense challenged the credibility of the interpreters, who lawyers say belong to the ethnic group that was persecuted during the violence.

The two men testified they were Rwandan expatriates hired by the Department of Justice to assist in the search. They speak Kinyarwanda, the primary language spoken in Rwanda.

One witness, Joseph Sebarenzi, said he's a former member of the Rwandan parliament and moved to the U.S. in 2000.

Sebarenzi testified he was hired in February by the Department of Justice as an analyst. His duties include working on Kobagaya's case.

The other witness, Boniface Benzige, said he hadn't lived in Rwanda since 1961 and has been living in the U.S. since 1992.

Both are U.S. citizens.

Each told the judge they knew no details about the searches, didn't participate in taking of items and didn't know the charges against Kobagaya.

Kobagaya is scheduled for trial Oct. 12 on charges of fraud and unlawfully obtaining U.S. citizenship in 2006. Prosecutors said he lied about being involved in the genocide.

Kobagaya denies participating in the violent acts and has said he was fleeing Rwanda during an ethnic civil war.

If convicted, Kobagaya could be deported.

Reach Ron Sylvester at 316-268-6514 or rsylvester@wichitaeagle.com.

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