March 28, 2018 / 4:09 PM / 25 days ago

Rwanda auctions assets belonging to jailed critic of President Kagame

KIGALI (Reuters) - Rwandan authorities on Wednesday sold assets belonging to the family of a woman who was barred from standing against President Paul Kagame at an election last year and then jailed pending trial for alleged incitement to insurrection.

Anne Rwigara, representative of business at the Premier Tobacco Company, addresses the media during an auction of assets belonging to the family of Diane Shima Rwigara, a prominent critic of Rwanda's president Paul Kagame, in Kigali, Rwanda March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jean Bizimana

The sale is a fresh blow to Diane Rwigara, who has accused Kagame of stifling dissent and criticized his Rwandan Patriotic Front’s grip on the country since it fought its way to power to end a genocide in 1994.

The revenue authority sold the stock of Premier Tobacco Company owned by Rwigara’s family to another tobacco company for around 500 million Rwandan francs ($577,842.29) and said it was recovering unpaid back taxes.

Rwigara’s sister Anne said the auction and the charges of incitement and forgery aim to punish the family because Rwigara challenged Kagame and to deter other potential opponents.

Cigarette stock is seen at the Premier Tobacco Company during an auction of assets belonging to the family of Diane Shima Rwigara, a prominent critic of Rwanda's president Paul Kagame, in Kigali, Rwanda March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jean Bizimana

She also said the company’s stock is worth about 1 billion francs. This year the family filed a court case saying the revenue authority illegally seized company assets.

“This is banditry in a country of so called rule of law. Since the 1980s our father worked hard to get this factory. Over 35 years of hard work and now in three hours you take it away,” Anne Rwigara told a court bailiff and tax body officials.

Slideshow (4 Images)

The revenue authority’s director general Richard Tusabe told Reuters the auction was legal and not politically motivated.

“There are more assets to be sold. We need to sell more to recover government funds. The key is to recover government funds,” he said.

Kagame won international credit for restoring stability in Rwanda and presiding over a rapid economic recovery after the genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and politically moderate ethnic Hutus were killed.

Human rights groups and some others say he has muzzled independent media and suppressed potential democratic opponents. Kagame won the August election with 98.8 percent of the vote.

($1 = 865.2880 Rwandan francs)

Editing by Maggie Fick and Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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