The government's suspicions may have originated with Kobagaya's recent offer to record video testimony on behalf of Francois Bazaramba, a former neighbor whom a Finnish court sentenced to life in prison last year for his role in facilitating the violence in Birambo. In interviews with U.S. immigration officers, Kobagaya had claimed that he had lived in Burundi between 1993 and 1995. By offering firsthand knowledge of events in Rwanda in 1994, Kobagaya exposed his own lie.
The first motion filed in the Kobagaya case was a request for the Finnish government to share virtually all of the evidence it had gathered investigating Bazaramba, who was implicated in the genocide when his name appeared on a list of suspects that the Rwandan government published in 2006.
In a motion filed in January 2010, Kobagaya's legal team offers its own version of how their client came to be accused of mass murder. "In this case, the United States is serving as a conduit for the Rwandan government to investigate and prosecute Mr. Kobagaya," wrote lawyers Kurt Kerns and Melanie Morgan in a motion to dismiss the case filed in January 2010. The defense team alleged that Kobagaya had been investigated "at the behest of the Rwandan government."
Presiding judge Monti Belot found "no evidence" to support the defense's claim. Tom Ndahiro, a self-described "genocide scholar" who has been linked to Paul Kagame, also denied any coordination between the U.S. and Rwandan governments in identifying Kobagaya. "I don't think this was a case conducted by the government of Rwanda but by the United States," he told me. "I think there must have been something that triggered his -- that made him come back to the limelight. Otherwise there are many people who are accused of that crime but who have been here without the U.S. government's notice." Ndahiro says he does not formally work for the Kagame government, but when I called the Rwandan embassy in Washington, D.C., for comment on the case, someone passed the phone to him.
The Rwandan government is playing some role in how the case has proceeded. Preparing for the case, U.S. prosecutors traveled to Rwanda, where government authorities helped to find witnesses and take depositions. In a later motion, the defense noted that "all of the government witnesses have participated in gacaca" -- a sprawling Rwandan system of community-level courts dedicated solely to genocide cases -- either as defendants, witnesses or victims," and the government's own list of evidence against Kobagaya includes "gacaca records gathered by the U.S. government in Rwanda."
According to Duke University professor Madeline Morris, a transitional justice expert who has advised the Rwandan government, Rwanda imprisoned about 80,000 people accused of genocide-related crimes in the immediate aftermath of the conflict. The country's existing court system would simply have been incapable of processing all of the accused genocidaires. "In the Rwandan context the problem of finding evidence was enormous," Morris said. "A lot of people where dead, a lot of documents were destroyed, and a lot of people who were arrested weren't identified." The Rwandan government was leery of using the country's courts to prosecute tens of thousands of suspects solely on the basis of eyewitness testimony. "I think that politically and internally within the Rwandan government there was a lot of ambivalence about what the results would be if people were actually able to use that law," she said.