Rwandans in I&M Bank fraud case sue State over detention

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By SAM KIPLAGAT

More than 150 Rwandans have sued their government for arrest and detention last January over alleged card fraud and money laundering involving $8,186,597.

In the suit filed before the East African Court of Justice, the former I&M Bank card holders accuse Rwanda of violating their rights by detaining them for months without trial.

Read: I&M Rwanda loses $10 million to fraudsters

They want the regional court to issue a declaration that the decision of the Rwanda Investigation Bureau to arrest and detain them without trial violates the Constitution of Rwanda, the laws of Rwanda and Articles 6(d) and 7(2) of the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community.

Further, the petitioners say it contravened the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and settled principles of universal standards of Human rights and practice in the EAC, the African Union and international law.

“A declaration that the acts by the respondent either by itself, their agents, servants and or personal representatives to illegally arrest, detain and torture friends and family members of the applicants contravenes Article 6(d) and 7(2) of the Treaty,” Mr Ssemakula Ali Abaas said in an affidavit filed in court.

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Mr Abaas has filed the case alongside Ms Nyinawumuntu Leatitia on behalf of 157 people who were allegedly arrested and detained over the fraud claims.

The group claims they entered into a relationship with I&M Bank Rwanda and were issued with Mastercard multi-currency cards, which could hold up to 17 different currencies.

The petitioners say one of the benefits as advertised on the bank’s website was that a cardholder could switch from one currency to another within the card’s sub-wallets.

Court papers state that a comparison between the rates offered by the bank and those on the MasterCard platform revealed that the latter offered favourable rates.

The petitioners say they shifted currencies within the card’s sub-wallets such from AED to euro and back to the United Arab Emirates Dirham, resulting in a 10 percent profit.

Ms Abaas said the activity essentially leveraged price differences across markets, a practice known as arbitrage.

However, on January 2023, the Rwanda Investigation Bureau arrested over 100 individuals on allegations of bank fraud, money laundering and illicit enrichment.

Ms Abaas said he was detained for two months as the investigators allegedly confiscated his travel documents and cash worth $6,800.

He said he lost his job, where he was earning a monthly pay of $1,500 and that his next of kin including his wife and children were not informed of the reasons for his arrest.

“That there were other people who were arrested and the same injustices and human rights violations were done to them. I was personally tortured physically and mentally,” he says in the affidavit.

Rwanda’s defence

Rwanda’s Attorney General has denied the claims and maintained that the accused were subject to investigations of crimes of embezzlement and money laundering.

The Attorney General informed the court that the suspects were charged with economic crimes, cybercrimes and money laundering and that the case is still pending. However, the accused persons were granted provisional release, pending trial but they fled the country after being released.

In defence, the Attorney General says the regional court lacks jurisdiction to determine the matter and that the case is time-barred.

Court documents indicate that the Rwandan government will be arguing for the dismissal of the case as it was filed 11 months after the arrest and detention.

“Therefore, considering that this reference was filed out of the time of two months set by Article 3092) of the EAC Treaty, we pray that the reference be dismissed,” the Rwandan Attorney General said.

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