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newtimes - 24 days ago

New report pins Tribert Rujugiro on illicit dealings, terrorism financing

A new report on East Africa’s war against extremism, crime, corruption and related illicit trade has pinned Rwandan dissident Tribert Ayabatwa Rujugiro on illicit trade and terrorism financing. The report, released this month by Counter Extremism Project, entitled, ‘An Unholy Alliance: Links between Extremism and Illicit Trade in East Africa’ says that regional stability is increasingly threatened by the continued existence of illicit markets and trade fueled by corruption. In the East Africa region, illicit tobacco trade has been singled out to fund extremist groups, with the exiled Rwandan businessman Rujugiro at the centre of this. Rwandan dissident Tribert Ayabatwa Rujugiro. Photo: Net. “In East Africa and its surrounding regions, illicit tobacco has been found to fund extremist groups in the DR Congo, while also financing corrupt practices throughout the region,” the report reads in part. Rujugiro has been using illicit proceeds from company, Pan African Tobacco Group to fund Rwanda National Congress (RNC), a terror group which has bases in DR Congo. RNC was created by Rwandan dissidents with an aim of violently overthrowing the Rwandan government. In December 2018, a UN Group of Experts noted that the RNC was responsible for terror attempts and threat in Rwanda and DR Congo. With the funding of Rujugiro, RNC co-founded an outfit called P5, which for the past couple of years maintained militia bases in eastern DR Congo. Top members of the outfit such as Habib Mudathiru who headed its operations until he was captured and sent to Rwanda in 2019, have admitted to plotting acts of terrorism against Rwanda. Recruited in Uganda, Mudathiru was captured by the DR Congo military during an offensive against illegal armed groups. He has since been tried and was recently sentenced to 25 years after he pleaded guilty. He was captured with 25 of his fighters, who also entered a guilty plea and received varying sentences from the Military High Court. Besides being a recruitment base for the militia group, Uganda has also emerged as the regional base of Rujugiro’s tobacco trading, and is said to enjoy favors from the political leadership in Kampala. Indeed, the report noted that organised crime syndicates are routinely facilitated by some corrupt members of the region’s political class. Through his trading name, Meridian Tobacco Company, Rujugiro in recent years opened a manufacturing plant in northern Uganda, which produces the Supermatch brand. He also owns large plantations of tobacco in the region, which have been used as a recruitment base for Rwandans to join the RNC-backed militia group in DR Congo. The same region where Rujugiro operates his tobacco business in Uganda, also has a refugee camp for Rwandans, which has been cited as a major recruitment base for Rwandan militia groups. Mudathiru told the court he was recruited from the same camp. Business malpractices Because of this protection from politicians within regional countries, the report said that Rujugiro has been cited in a number of business malpractices, as mentioned in the report. In 2012, a Kenyan tobacco manufacturer launched a lawsuit against one of subsidiaries of his holding company, PanAfrican Tobacco Group, accusing the company of counterfeiting its flagship brand, Supermatch, and selling it cheaply on the East African market, according to the report. “The same illicit network also facilitated the smuggling of cigarettes back into Uganda, a process known as ‘roundtripping’, with tax evasion facilitated by corrupt customs officials on both sides of the Uganda-Congo border,” the report reads in part. Rujugiro, also pleaded guilty to tax evasion and fraud before a South African court in 2009 and fined $3.7m. He has also previously had run-ins with Burundian authorities over financial crimes ranging from money laundering, smuggling and tax evasion. The report’s authors proposed that effective combatting of illicit trade and extremism requires a comprehensive regional approach, without which national-level interventions are doomed to fail. “The East African Community (EAC) has a significant role to play in this regard. As well as driving harmonization of market standards, the regional body must pressurize member states to adopt key measures designed to enhance enforcement cooperation,” the report read in part. This would require regional East African Community governments to act on information presented by counterparts on extremist activities in the countries unlike the case currently. For instance, in recent years, Rwanda has informed Uganda on activities by Rujugiro and his counterparts aimed at destabilizing the region but little has been done. “It is evident that crime, corruption, extremism and illicit trade are inextricably linked in East Africa. Therefore, to combat the extremist, criminal and corrupt dangers facing the region it is imperative that national governments and appropriate regional bodies adopt an approach which treats illicit trade as an equivalent security threat. Illicit trade, extremism, crime and corruption must be seen as a composite whole. This can be achieved through, among other measures, closer harmonization of legal penalties,” the authors further observed. About the report Counter Extremism Project (CEP) is a non-for-profit, international policy organization headquartered in Germany aiming to understand growing extremist groups worldwide and inform counter strategies. CEP has extensively worked to expose extremist organisations and their financiers as well as avail a database of information about those with links to such extremist groups. The body is made up of experts with varied backgrounds formerly working as government officials, policymakers and statesmen working to develop the best strategies and practices to counter extremists. CEP has previously published reports to expose the working of extremist groups including Boko Haram in Nigeria, Islamic State among others.


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