Felicien Kabuga, indicted on charges of genocide related to the 1994 Rwandan massacre of some 800,000 people, appeared before a French court on Wednesday, four days after his arrest following a quarter of a century on the run.
In his first appearance in public in more than 20 years, the octogenarian was brought into the court in a wheelchair, dressed in jeans and a blue jumper and wearing a face mask.
Kabuga is accused of bankrolling and arming the ethnic Hutu militias that waged the 100-day killing spree against Rwanda’s Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Rwanda’s most wanted fugitive, he was arrested on Saturday in a Paris suburb.
His lawyers said in a statement before the hearing that Kabuga had the right to be presumed innocent and opposed being transferred from France to a United Nations tribunal that handles crimes against humanity based in Tanzania.
Defence lawyer Laurent Bayon told the court Kabuga wished to be tried in France.
The court will decide whether to hand Kabuga to the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals. The international court is based in The Hague, the Netherlands and Arusha, Tanzania.
The IRMCT’s chief prosecutor told Reuters news agency the court had already requested Kabuga be transferred to UN custody.
Kabuga‘s voice was weak, but audible, as he confirmed through an interpreter his identity and parents’ names. He gave his date of birth as March 1, 1933.
Kabuga‘s arrest marked the end of a more than 20 years long hunt that spanned Africa and Europe.
A one-time tea and coffee tycoon, he is accused of being a main financier of the genocide, paying for the militias that carried out the massacres, as well as importing huge numbers of machetes, according to the UN tribunal’s indictment.
He also co-owned Radio Television Milles Collines, whose radio station broadcast anti-Tutsi messages that fanned the ethnic hatred.
The United States had placed a $5m reward on his head.
The French court granted a request by the defence to defer the hearing and set the next date for May 27.
Exiting the courtroom, Kabuga raised his fist as several relatives including one son voiced encouragement.