Rwandan tax body to auction off assets of jailed govt critic

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — Rwanda’s Revenue Authority said Friday it will auction off assets belonging to the family of a jailed critic of President Paul Kagame’s government to pay a tax debt — a move that family members call politically motivated.

Assets of the cigarette maker Premier Tobacco Company, which belongs to the family of Diane Rwigara, will be sold at auction on March 28 to recover $6 million in back taxes, the Revenue Authority said.

Vedaste Habimana, a court bailiff, told The Associated Press on Friday he has been instructed by tax authorities to carry out the auction. Those interested in buying Rwigara’s properties can visit the company premises in Gikondo, Kigali, on Tuesday.

In an interview in Kigali, Anne Rwigara, the family’s business representative, said the decision by the revenue body would be appealed before the auction.

Rwigara’s family has rejected the tax evasion charges, describing them as “politically motivated” and aimed at sending the family into “bankruptcy” for opposing the government.

Their family says the trouble started last year after Rwigara announced she would challenge Kagame in the Aug. 4 presidential election. Two days after declaring her candidacy, nude photographs allegedly of her were leaked on social media. It was not clear who was behind the leak. She was then disqualified from running over allegations that she forged some of the signatures on her nomination papers. She denied that allegation

Police arrested her in September along with her mother. Both women have been charged with inciting insurrection against the state and Rwigara also has been charged with forgery.

Earlier this year, the Rwigara family filed a case in the Commercial Court in Kigali, accusing the tax body of illegally seizing the company’s bank accounts and assets. The family told the court that the tobacco plant’s computers, account books and warehouses had been seized, making it difficult for the business to operate.

The court ruled in the favor of Rwanda’s Revenue Authority, saying the seizure was done legally.

Kagame is praised by some U.S. and British leaders, who cite how he has transformed an impoverished, war-ravaged nation into an efficient technology hub with some of the highest rates for literacy and health in Africa. That has come at the cost of a dictatorship that critics say ruthlessly suppresses opposition and often jails, disappears or kills opponents.

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