Felicien Kabuga, a key Rwandan genocide fugitive, is due to appear before a Paris court days after police swooped on his hideout in a suburb of the French capital.
The 84-year-old is accused of financing Hutu militias that massacred some 800,000 Tutsis and their moderate Hutu allies over a span of 100 days in 1994.
Kabuga, a Hutu businessman and once one of Rwanda’s wealthiest people, was indicted in 1997 on seven criminal counts including genocide.
At Tuesday’s hearing, which is procedural, the court will set out the legal process before passing the case to investigative judges who will decide whether to hand over Kabuga to a United Nations court handling alleged crimes against humanity.
At least one France-based genocide victim support group said it was considering legal action to unearth how Kabuga was able to go underground in France and what help he had received.
“He was our Klaus Barbie, our [Adolf] Eichmann,” said Etienne Nsanzimana, president of support group Ibuka France, referring to two prominent Nazi war criminals.
“How did he stay on the run for 26 years? For how many years was he in France and receiving help to live comfortably. I don’t think it was just his family,” Nsanzimana added.
Kabuga was arrested in a pre-dawn raid on Saturday in Asnieres-sur-Seine on the outskirts of Paris. France’s justice ministry has said he lived under a false identity.
It is not known when or how Kabuga, who had a $5m US reward on his head, entered France.
“Since 1994, Felicien Kabuga, known to have been the financier of Rwanda genocide, had with impunity stayed in Germany, Belgium, Congo-Kinshasa, Kenya, or Switzerland,” a justice ministry statement said.
His ability to hide to evade an international manhunt for more than 20 years has raised questions over whether he had accomplices outside of his family.
“It is difficult to imagine he could have escaped into French territory without the help of accomplices,” said Patrick Baudoin of the International Federation for Human Rights. The federation has supported survivors in the prosecution of other Rwandan genocide suspects living in France.
Moussa Faki, chairperson of the African Union Commission, welcomed the news of what he described as a “landmark arrest”.
“This latest development is, indeed, a milestone in our collective efforts to ensure that such heinous crimes against humanity never happen again,” Mahamat said on Monday.
Phil Clark, a professor at SOAS University of London, said the arrest was hugely significant as Kabuga played a crucial role in the mass killings by creating the notorious Interahamwe militia as well as a radio network that sent out chilling incitements to murder.
“The genocide could not have happened without Kabuga. He basically bankrolled the entire genocide,” Clark told Al Jazeera.
“He basically produced, created and funded the militias that carried out many of the largest massacres during the genocide.
“He also bankrolled the main ‘hate’ radio station that incited many of the key massacres, and he also enabled the import of about 500,000 machetes, without which the killing spree would have been impossible. Without Kabuga, the genocide couldn’t have happened.”