Former PM Habumuremyi Arraigned in Court, Pleads Not Guilty
The former Prime Minister Dr. Pierre Damien Habumuremyi was arraigned in Gasabo Primary Court on Thursday where he was charged with breach of trust and issuing several bounced cheques, among other charges.
Dr Habumuremyi, who was clad in a grey suit, white shirt and brown shoes, arrived at the court in the morning, aboard a Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) inmates van. When the hearing opened, he requested court to conduct the trial in-camera as he was not comfortable responding to charges in the presence of many people.
Through his lawyers Ernest Bayisabe and Jean Pierre Kayitare, Habumuremyi argued that he has hypertension, which makes it difficult to defend himself before court in attendance of the public but the argument was dismissed by the judges.
Court said unless there were unusual circumstances stipulated in the law, all cases are heard in the open, unless the trial has implications on the security of the country.
The Judge also ruled that the law allowed journalists to cover the case, including capturing video and recordings once they apply for a permit, which is why the case should continue to be heard in public.
Prosecutors contend that Dr Habumuremyi issued cheques worth over Rwf170 million, some under his name and others in the names of Christian University of Rwanda, which bounced.
The prosecution alleges that Dr Habumuremyi issued a tender worth Rwf20.5m for the purchase of 20 computers for the university, but the supplier was first required to deposit Rwf10m as security -an amount which would be refunded upon supplying the equipment.
The supplier, Jean Bosco Ngabonziza received back only Rwf5m and he was given unguaranteed cheques for the remaining amount
Habumuremyi did not deny issuing the cheques but he said that he gave them as collateral that the money would be paid but not necessarily that there was money on the accounts. He said this was done to allow the university to continue operations.
The remaining amount of Rwf22.5m for the entire tender was supposed to be paid in 3 installments but it was not paid. Dr Habumuremyi said that they had written to Ngabonziza asking him to renew his contract due to the New Coronavirus epidemic, which hampered the operations of the university.
His lawyers argued that technically he hadn’t defaulted since the cheques were due for July 15, 2020.
Regarding another case of another cheque issued to Edmond Kazungu, court had that Habumuremyi was in the process of clearing the money he was owed, with Rwf10m already paid while Rwf18m was still pending.
The Judge asked Dr Habumuremyi why he had signed all the cheques well knowing that there was no money on his account or university account but he said that the cheques were simply a guarantee to the entrepreneurs, without them being cashed immediately.
A troubled University
It was heard that the university was struggling to clear its dues and Dr Habumuremyi many times stepped in to make commitments with cheques but never honoured them.
He argued that the entrepreneurs chose to deposit the cheques to punish him as he looked for a solution, citing Ngabonziza as one of those individuals.
He denied breach of trust, arguing that there are contracts binding him or the university and the entrepreneurs and that he would meet his obligations if released.
The Prosecution however said that there are many other people who the Christian University of Rwanda and Dr Habumuremyi owed money which he defaulted on paying, including Charles Nkurunziza who he owes Rwf38 million and the aforementioned individuals.
Dr Habumuremyi argued that he has a heart condition and a vision problem, which puts his health in peril if he is jailed and that the court should grant him bail. He also said that he made some of the confessions Prosecutors are using under duress.
He also said that he is a renowned and trusted individual who has served the country in different capacities and would not evade justice if released but Prosecutors said he is a flight risk.
The Prosecution revealed that Dr Habumuremyi owns 60% shares of Christian University of Rwanda, while his son has 30% and the Vice Chancellor 10%. As the major shareholder, he was responsible for issuing cheques.
Prosecutors said that releasing him would not only jeopardize the recovery process, but it does not also guarantee that he would meet his obligations or pay his creditors.
Christian University of Rwanda was closed at the beginning of this month by the Ministry of Education for failing to fulfill requirements.
The decision on bail will be delivered on July 21.