In December last year a Kigali lower court acquitted 10 of the 12 suspects accused of embezzling billions of Francs from the Pentecostal Church of Rwanda or ADEPR.
However, The Chronicles has obtained information suggesting the scheme to defraud ADEPR’s more than 2m followers, goes far beyond and involves very powerful forces and interests.
This Friday, the case goes to Appeals stage, which according to lawyers handling the case, is unlikely to succeed because they believe powerful people have benefitted, and are determined to ensure the case never concludes.
Among the victims of this complicated web of interests, is Uwimana Jean, who was an office messenger (Planton) at ADEPR headquarters in Kigali. Uwimana, according to court submissions, was “paid” a total of Rwf 431,203,807 (more than US$471,000).
As a salary, Uwimana earned less than Rwf 100,000 monthly. The current leadership of the church wonders whether he actually got any single cent from the Rwf 430m he was allegedly paid by the former leaders who made him do their dirty work.
For starters, ADEPR has been a church embroiled in controversy after another. Government, on its part, including President Paul Kagame himself, has intervened to wade off bitter fights, which also turned ethnic, among ADEPR top leaders.
The same church has been investigated by the Senate over promoting ethnic divisions among its members. Whether the probe was completed or still ongoing, has not been made public by the Senate.
In May 2017, Rev. Bishop Karuranga Ephraim was elected as new head of ADEPR church from a hotly contested vote. The election was called to find new leadership as the former senior pastors led by Sibomana Jean, were facing prosecution over embezzlement.
Karuranga found a church with a Rwf 2.150billion owed to the Development Bank of Rwanda (BRD) as loan from 2014. The loan was acquired, according to loan documents, to add more facilities to the Church’s DOVE Hotel which was due to be constructed.
However, there is no single evidence showing what the loan did. To make it worse, ever since the loan was issued, it has been accumulating interest.
On March 27 2017, top Bishop Sibomana was arrested by Police. His arrest followed that of his surbodinates earlier that week. All were accused of conniving to steal Rwf 2,530,395,614 which they had collected from church followers to pay BRD debt. The loan was never paid, according to the police dossier at the time.
Since then, Bishop Sibomana and 9 others have been cleared by a lower court of any case last December, about two years after case opened.
Those acquitted include: Bishop Sibomana Jean, Tom Rwagasana, Mutuyemariya Christine, Sebagabo Leonard, Gasana Valens, Beninka Bertin, Niyitanga Salton, Nzabarinda Tharcisse, Mukabera Mediatrice and Twizerimana Emmanuel.
However, Sindayigaya Theophile and Mukakamali Lynea, were found guilty of stealing Rwf32m. They were ordered to repay this money to ADEPR or go to jail.
What has remained out of public view is that these two convicted were low-level officials who had no control over the resources of the church.
However, before the arrest of Bishop Sibomana and the 11 other co-accused, they had officially opened the now contested DOVE Hotel in Gisozi, an outskirt of Kigali in February 2017. Former Prime Minister Anastase Murekezi, now Ombudsman, was the chief guest.
At the time the Rwf 2.15 billion BRD loan was obtained in 2014, ADEPR was led by Sibomana, deputised by Rwagasana, while Sebagabo was secretary general, and Mutuyemariya was national treasurer.
Some months before the DOVE Hotel was due to be opened, Bishop Sibomana and his top subordinates managed to convince ADEPR followers that the church needs to repay the BRD loan. Rwf 3,338,404,957 was collected from ADEPR followers for this purpose. It turns out later that the money was actually not paid to BRD, whose loan is still outstanding, and increasing.
Angry wrangles erupted in the church at the time which threatened to break up ADEPR that was first introduced in Rwanda 79 years ago. Today, it is considered the 3rd largest religious group after Catholics and Protestants.
It is the only church in Rwanda with parishes covering all corners of Rwanda. It has also expanded to Uganda.
So what happened to the money meant to pay BRD loan? In the case prosecuting the 12 officials, there is no mention of this money, despite, the police arresting them on that same charge.
A 15-page dossier obtained by The Chronicles shows a complicated case, naming powerful government officials.
This brings us back to the case of Uwimana Jean, the office messenger, who was “paid” more than Rwf 430m as indicated above.
The dossier we have, shows, with evidence, that Uwimana withdrew that money using bank cheques at different times starting from October 5, 2016.
In his sworn affidaffit, Uwimana says for each of the times he was given the cheque, it had his names, but withdrew the money and handed all of it to Bishop Rwagasana (ex-deputy ADEPR leader) and Sebagabo (ex-Secretary General).
There was no probe to find out what happened to the rest of the balance going up to over Rwf 2.8billion.
This Friday, the case goes to appeal, initiated by the current leadership of ADEPR led by Rev. Bishop Karuranga Ephraim. He pushed state prosecution to appeal against the acquittals. The Chronicles did not speak to him since we had obtained the dossier of the case.
The lawyers representing the church say there is more than meets the eye in this case.
For example, Prosecutor General Jean Bosco Mutangana and his deputy Agnes Mukagashugi have at different times appointed prosecutors for the case, only to withdraw them just before the case is about to reopen.
As a result, the new prosecutor finds they are unable to deal with the huge case. The constant changes of prosecutors is what caused the collapse of original trial leading to the acquittal of Bishop Sibomana and his top leadership.
Another example; the original prosecutor was Biraboneye Prudence. He was replaced with Nkubito Emmanuel during the progress of the trial. What shocked the ADEPR legal team is that Nkubito filed an application with the court seeking to withdraw charges.
“Instead of prosecuting the suspects, he was pleading on behalf of the suspects removing charges on them which led to their acquittal,” said one of the ADEPR lawyers.
ADEPR wrote to the Prosecutor General demanding that Nkubito be withdrawn from the case, but no action was taken.
The case was concluded, and 10 senior people walked free, and the ordinary employees risk years in jail.
But even then, the convicted were held liable for only Rwf 32m. According to the dossier we have, ADEPR lawyers engaged the prosecution which reluctantly filed an appeal.
The appeals dossier was handed to a new state prosecutor Habarurema Jean Pierre. He spent weeks preparing for the appeal.
As for the ADEPR lawyers, one of their grounds of Appeal is that they wanted the first case to have been handled by a panel of judges, not a single judge as was done in first trial.
Two days to start of Appeals hearing on September 6, 2019, prosecutor Habarurema was withdrawn and the file transferred to a new prosecutor Rudatinya Gaspard. The ADEPR lawyers managed to convince the Appeals panel for an extension to September 13.
One of the lawyers who spoke to The Chronicles wondered how the prosecutor would be able to understand and proceed with such complex case in such a short time.
The lawyers also say they will not be surprised if the current prosecutor is also changed.