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Archive for Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Rwanda genocide suspect convicted of lying to US

May 31, 2011

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— 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.

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.

U.S. and Rwandan prosecutors say Kobagaya was in Rwanda in April of 1994 when the mass killings began, and government witnesses testified that Kobagaya encouraged fellow Hutus 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 application by stating he didn't participate in genocide.

Kobagaya's attorneys say he is innocent, and his family has said 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.

The jury deadlocked on the first count in the indictment, which accused Kobagaya of unlawfully obtaining U.S. citizenship in 2006. The government said 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 official or lied to gain entry to the U.S.

Prosecutors have said the case is first criminal prosecution in the U.S. requiring proof of genocide.

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