Wealthy businessman Félicien Kabuga outwitted prosecutors of the Rwandan genocide tribunal for more than two-and-a-half decades by using 28 aliases and powerful connections across two continents to evade capture.
The 84-year-old had been on the run for so long that the international tribunal set up to bring to justice those responsible for the 1994 genocide had ceased to work.
But he was eventually hunted down last weekend to a hideout in a suburb of the French capital – thanks to an investigation relaunched by Serge Brammertz, a UN war crimes prosecutor heading the body which handles outstanding war crimes cases for Rwanda and Yugoslavia.
“We knew already a year ago that he was very likely to be in the UK, France or in Belgium and we concluded only two months ago that he was in France,” the chief prosecutor for the UN’s International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals’ (IRMCT) told the BBC.
“The French authorities located the apartment in which he was hiding, which led to the operation.”
One of the major reasons he was able to be on the run for so long was “the complicity of his children”, he said.
He is known to have at least five children – two of his daughters were married to sons of Rwanda’s former President Juvénal Habyarimana, whose death when his plane was shot down 6 April 1994 triggered the genocide.
French investigators spied on Mr Kabuga’s children to track him down to his third-floor flat in the Paris suburb of Asnières-sur-Seine, where he had been living under a false identity using a passport from an unidentified African country.
According to Col Eric Emeraux, who heads a special French police unit fighting war crimes, the coronavirus pandemic also helped as the lockdown in France paralysed many operations across parts of Europe, freeing up time to focus on the man accused of being the main financier of the genocide.
In just 100 days in 1994, about 800,000 people were slaughtered in Rwanda by ethnic Hutu extremists – who Mr Kabuga, a man who had made his fortune in the tea trade, is said to have backed.
They were targeting members of the minority Tutsi community, as well as their political opponents, irrespective of their ethnic origin.
The United States had offered a $5m (£4.1m) reward for information leading to Mr Kabuga’s arrest.
But it was puzzling that for so many years one of the most wanted fugitives in Africa, with a $5m (£4.1m) US bounty on his head after being charged with seven counts of genocide and crimes against humanity in 1997, managed to live in subterfuge and evade law enforcement across countries and continents.
Was he harboured in Kenya?
Mr Kabuga is alleged to have lived in many countries in East Africa, including Kenya, where he and his family had business interests.
Kenya was for long said to be harbouring the fugitive, with powerful politicians accused of thwarting efforts to arrest him.
In 2006, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda said it had evidence that Mr Kabuga either visited or resided in Kenya, where he carried out business interests.
Three years later, Stephen Rapp, then US ambassador-at-large for war crimes, accused successive Kenyan governments of refusing to hand over Mr Kabuga.
There was evidence that Mr Kabuga even attended functions attended by influential persons, he said – allegations Kenya has always denied.
There is no dispute that the Kabuga family owned assets in Kenya as one property became the subject of a court case in 2015 when his wife, Josephine Mukazitoni, who co-owned it, tried and failed to regain access to it.
Known as Spanish Villas, it had been seized because of a UN resolution requiring member states to trace and freeze Mr Kabuga’s assets.