WICHITA | The family of an 82-year-old immigrant suspected of participating in Rwanda's 1994 genocide say the man is innocent, contending he was too old and sick to commit such atrocities.
Lazare Kobagaya, of Topeka, made his first appearance Friday in U.S. District Court in Wichita to face a two-count federal indictment charging him with unlawfully obtaining U.S. citizenship in 2006 and with fraud and misuse of an alien registration card. The indictment, filed in January and unsealed Thursday, also seeks to revoke his U.S. citizenship.
The indictment alleges Kobagaya lied during naturalization proceedings in Wichita by claiming he had lived in Burundi from 1993 to 1995. It contends he concealed that he had lived in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide and participated in the attacks and slaughter of hundreds of Tutsis.
During Friday's hearing, the charges were read to Kobagaya, who did not enter a plea. The court appointed an attorney for the hearing, but Kobagaya said he planned to hire his own lawyer. One of his sons, Andre Kandy, and a government translator helped translate for Kobagaya.
Outside the courtroom, Kandy acknowledged Friday that his father was in Rwanda during the time in question as a Burundi refugee. But Kandy said his father speaks little English and probably misunderstood what was being asked during the naturalization proceedings. He said his father considers himself to be from Burundi.
"What they want to do is revoke his citizenship so he can be deported and killed," Kandy said during a break in Friday's court hearing.
Another son, Jean-Claude Kandagaya, said his diabetic father was bedridden when he was at a Burundi refugee camp in Rwanda.
"It cannot be as they are saying," he said.
Court papers filed in Kobagaya's case show U.S. investigators enlisted the help of authorities in Finland who were investigating another Rwandan genocide suspect, Francois Bazaramba, living in Finland.
The family said Kobagaya gave a sworn statement in support of Bazaramba, who had been his neighbor. Kobagaya's family say the Rwanda government is retaliating by falsely accusing him of participating in the genocide.
The Justice Department alleged in its court filing that in April 1994 Kobagaya directed a gathering of Hutus to burn down houses belonging to the Tutsis. Prosecutors also contend he mobilized attackers and ordered and coerced them to kill hundreds of Tutsis.
Those crimes in Rwanda were cited to support allegations that Kobagaya lied when he said he had not committed a crime during his application and subsequent interviews under oath for U.S. citizenship.
The charge of fraud and misuse of an alien registration card refers to claims Kobagaya made on his immigrant visa application that the government contends are false.
If convicted, Kobagaya faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on each of the charges.
Kobagaya is scheduled for a detention hearing Wednesday.