November 24, 2020

President Kagame’s ex-Chief Body Guard Jailed for ‘Stealing Samsung Phone’

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Col Tom Byabagamba in the military court during the trial of the first cases since 2014

Jailed Col Tom Byabagamba, who protected President Paul Kagame for many years, saw his ongoing prison term increased this Tuesday to nearly 20 years.

A lower court in Kigali agreed with government prosecutors that Col Byabagamba was guilty on charge of “stealing” Samsung phone and charger. As a result, the court ruled Byabagamba be jailed for 3 years.

Already, Col Byabagamba is serving 15 year jailed confirmed by Court of Appeal late last year for a host of cases including inciting insurrection and tarnishing the government’s image.

Byabagamba was jailed together with his brother-in-law Brig Gen Rtd Frank Rusagara. Their case started in 2014.

In the latest alleged phone theft case, prosecution told court over several sessions that Col Byabagamba stole the phone from the Court of Appeal premises during the time he was facing previous charges.

Prosecutors said the phone was part of a wider scheme involving other arrested family members, to attempt to escape from a maximum security military jail where Byabagamba is being held.

In his defense, Byabagamba angrily dismissed the charge saying that at his caliber he couldn’t steal “worthless things such as a phone” (utuntu tw’amafuti).

The case is a ploy by those who want to keep in jail to increase my prison time as well as undermine my credibility, said Byabagamba in previous sessions, also repeating today.

Appearing today for final submissions, the court listened to prosecution and defense, and then adjoined for slightly over 20mins. The judge returned with the verdict.

Byabagamba is the husband of Mary Baine, working at the South Africa-based African Tax Administration Forum. She is also former head of the Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA), and other senior positions.

Baine is also sister to former Rwanda’s foreign affairs minister Rosemary Museminali.

ALSO READ: From Grace to Prison: The Story of Family That Once Ruled Rwanda

Byabagamba, 53 years, has throughout his court appearances dismissed the cases against him, instead hinting of at unclear issues with his former boss President Kagame.

As commander of the presidential guard before falling from grace, Byabagamba was at the top of a small circle of people around Kagame. It is difficult to find any adult in Rwanda who doesn’t know Byabagamba due to the imposing stature he commanded when executing his job guarding Kagame.

Byabagamba has indicated he will appeal the phone theft sentence. And if his appeal doesn’t succeed, which is expected to be the case, he will leave prison aged 71 in the year 2037.

After exhausting his legal avenues in Rwanda with the first batch of cases, Byabagamba and his co-accused Rusagara, have filed a petition at the East African Court of Justice (EACJ). They want the regional court’s opinion on their sentence, which is unlikely to come in their favour considering the dynamics within which it operates.

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