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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Rwanda genocide suspect convicted of lying to US

The 84, Kobagaya Lazare
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal jury convicted an 84-year-old Kansas man on Tuesday of lying on his immigration forms about his whereabouts during the Rwanda genocide, but it did not find that the government proved its case that he took part in the mass killings.
The jury found Lazare Kobagaya guilty on one of the two counts of lying to immigration officials, and it deadlocked on the other count. U.S. District Judge Monti Belot declared a mistrial on that count.
Kobagaya, who speaks an African dialect known as Kirundi, leaned to the side and listened intently to his interpreter, but showed no emotion as the verdict was read. Afterward, he hung his head and stared at the defense table while the attorneys met with the judge in his chambers. No sentencing date was immediately set.
The jury found that Kobagaya lied on his application to move to the U.S. when he wrote that from 1993 until 1995, he was in his native Burundi, which borders Rwanda to the south.
Prosecutors say Kobagaya was in Rwanda in April of 1994 when the mass killings began, and government witnesses testified that Kobagaya encouraged fellow Hutus to murder Tutsis and burn their homes in the village of Birambo. They also testified that Kobagaya organized an attack at Mount Nyakizu in which thousands of fleeing Tutsis were killed.
At least 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed during the four-month-long wave of violence.
During closing arguments Wednesday, prosecutors said Kobagaya enjoyed the benefits of U.S. citizenship for 14 years after lying about his role in one of "the great crimes of the 20th Century."
But the jury did not find that the government proved he lied on his visa application by stating he didn't participate in genocide.
It was unclear whether the partial verdict of guilty on the sole immigration count is enough for the government to revoke his citizenship and deport him.
Prosecutors and Kobagaya's family declined comment after the verdict.
Defense attorney Kurt Kerns said he was "absolutely" glad the jury did not find that Kobagaya lied about the genocide. Kerns declined further comment.
Kobagaya's attorneys told jurors during the trial that their client is innocent, and his family has said in the past that the Rwandan government wants to prosecute him because Kobagaya testified on behalf of another genocide suspect who settled in Finland. His attorneys say the Rwandan government coerced convicted killers to testify against Kobagaya in exchange for their release from prison.
Kobagaya came to the attention of U.S. authorities after he gave a deposition on behalf of Francois Bazaramba, a former Rwandan pastor who was sentenced last year to life imprisonment by a Finnish court for committing genocide. Kobagaya was indicted two years ago on immigration charges.
The jury in Kansas deadlocked on the first count in the indictment, which accused Kobagaya of unlawfully obtaining U.S. citizenship in 2006. The government alleged he made four false statements on his application for naturalization when asked whether he ever persecuted anyone, committed a crime for which he was not arrested, gave false information to immigration officials or lied to gain entry to the United States.
Prosecutors declined to say whether they would seek a retrial on that count.
The government has said the case is the first criminal prosecution in the U.S. requiring proof of genocide. The case has spanned two continents some 8,000 miles apart and is likely to be among the most expensive federal cases to be tried in this country.
Government and defense attorneys have traveled to Rwanda along with their investigators, translators and even a court reporter to take depositions. Also, taxpayers are picking up the tab for all of the defense costs for Kobagaya, who has two court-appointed defense attorneys.
Prosecutors brought nine foreign witnesses to the United States for the trial that began April 26. The defense brought in 35 foreign witnesses, although not all ended up testifying. Each of the foreign witnesses was paid $96 a day over the several weeks they remained in the United States during the trial.
The defense has contended throughout the trial that the money paid to impoverished Rwandan witnesses who accused Kobagaya tainted their testimony, although defense witnesses also were similarly paid.
"And you wonder why our country is in debt — it is because it is paying off killers in Rwanda," Kerns told jurors during his closing arguments.
Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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