Wichita A federal judge on Monday rejected without comment a Justice Department request to designate as complex the case of an immigrant accused in the 1994 Rwandan massacre in what the government contends may be the first U.S. criminal prosecution involving proof of genocide.
U.S. District Judge Monti Belot’s ruling assures a speedy trial against Lazare Kobagaya, an 85-year-old Topeka man charged in a two-count federal indictment with fraud and unlawfully obtaining U.S. citizenship in 2006.
The indictment alleges Kobagaya lied during naturalization proceedings in Wichita by claiming he had lived in Burundi from 1993 to 1995. It contends he concealed that he had lived in Rwanda during the Tutsi genocide in 1994 and was a participant.
Prosecutors had filed the unopposed motion for the designation in a move to extend evidence discovery deadlines into 2010 and vacate the trial date now scheduled for June 23.
The Justice Department argued that the nature of the evidence, together with novel questions of fact and law, presented difficult issues that require more trial preparation time.
Evidence gathered so far includes about 7,000 pages of documents obtained in Rwanda and written in the native language of that country, Kinyarwanda. Hundreds of pages of documents and photographs also were seized during execution of a search warrant at Kobagaya’s Topeka home.
Both sides also face challenges working with witnesses overseas who pose language barriers and travel problems, prosecutors said.
In addition, the government issued a formal request in February to the government of Finland requesting information about a related case pending there against Francois Bazaramba.
Documents filed in the U.S. case against Kobagaya allege he and Bazaramba were leaders in the 1994 attacks and killings of Tutsis.
Finland’s government said in February it will not extradite Bazaramba to his home country because he might not receive a fair trial there. The Justice Ministry in Finland said its decision is based on a ruling by the International Criminal Tribunal that has prohibited the referral of three similar pending cases to Rwandan courts.
Bazaramba has been held in Finnish police custody since April 2007 on suspicion of genocide, but has not been charged. He would be tried in Finland if the state prosecutor charges him. That decision is expected later this year.
U.S. law generally requires that trial of a criminal matter begin within 70 days from the date on which an indictment is made public, the government argued in its motion. Kobagaya’s indictment was filed in January and unsealed last month.
Also on Monday, Belot rejected a separate motion that would have excluded from the speedy trial computation the time it takes authorities in Finland to respond to the U.S. request.
While Belot did not indicate in his ruling the basis of his denials of the two unopposed government requests, he has repeatedly refused in the past to do so in other cases that have come before him, citing appeals court rulings overturning judgments for lack of a speedy trial.
The Justice Department alleges Kobagaya lied during naturalization proceedings in Wichita by claiming he had lived in Burundi from 1993 to 1995. It contends he concealed that he had lived in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide and participated in the attacks and slaughter of hundreds of Tutsis.
An estimated 500,000 to 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda between April and July 1994. Most of the dead belonged to an ethnic group known as the Tutsi, while most of the killings were carried out by members of an ethnic group known as the Hutu.