A Kansas man accused of participating in the 1994 Rwandan genocide claims a U.S. immigration case against him should be thrown out because the Justice Department has allowed itself to be influenced by a Rwandan government notorious for its human rights violations.
Lazare Kobagaya, 83, is charged in federal court in Wichita with fraud and unlawfully obtaining U.S. citizenship in 2006. He has asked a judge to dismiss the indictment against him, based on alleged due process violations in the "fundamentally unfair" investigation and prosecution. The Topeka man contends he cannot get a fair trial because Rwandan witnesses are fearful of testifying truthfully.
Federal prosecutors disputed Kobagaya's claims Monday, arguing in court documents that he failed to identify any wrongdoing on the part of the U.S. government. Prosecutors also said that Rwanda is not influencing the case and does not control prosecution witnesses.
The government has said its prosecution of Kobagaya is believed to be the first in the United States involving proof of genocide. His trial is set for Oct. 12. He faces likely deportation if convicted.
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The Justice Department alleges in its 2009 indictment that 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.
An estimated 500,000 to 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda between April and July 1994 in ethnic violence.
"While the government may contend that it is entitled to investigate immigration fraud," defense attorneys argued, "the heart of the investigation is really this: Is Mr. Kobagaya a genocidaire?"
Defense attorneys also contended in a motion filed last month seeking to have the indictment dismissed that prosecution witnesses may not testify truthfully because they fear reprisals by the Rwandan government when they return to that country.
Prosecutors contended that Kobagaya's claim that Rwanda's treatment of witnesses renders a fair trial impossible is belied by the successful prosecution, and in some cases acquittal, of people accused of participating in the genocide.
They pointed to other countries — including England, Canada and Finland — that have conducted legal proceedings involving the Rwandan genocide.
The defense also argued that despite an ongoing investigation by Rwanda and by the United Nation's International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which prosecutes war crimes from the 1994 genocide, Kobagaya's name has never surfaced as even a suspect.
Prosecutors countered that the tribunal was not designed to charge every person involved in the genocide, but largely focused on high-level government officials.