In Kigali, he owns a $1 million (about Shs2.5b) sophisticated theatre located at Nyamirambo suburb known as Cine Star Cinema. The man is known as humorous, down to earth and intelligent, one of Rwanda’s emerging entrepreneurs.
But behind the scenes, Apollo Gafaranga, a man accused of killing former Rwanda’s spymaster Patrick Karegeya in Johannesburg’s Sandton Michelangelo Hotel on New Year’s eve, is more than a businessman - he is a trained spy and assassin, if the latest details emerging from Johannesburg are authentic.
According to South Africa’s weekly investigative newspaper, Mail & Guardian, Gafaranga befriended Karegeya about four years ago whereby the alleged hit-man cultivated his relationships with the former Rwandan head of external security to the level where the latter hosted him in his house in Johannesburg.
But, little did Karegeya know that his friend was in actual sense the biggest enemy who was on a mission to assassinate him.
To conceal his identity, Gafaranga is believed to have acquired a South African passport, which he used whenever he entered South Africa, according to the Mail & Guardian report.
But, according to the newspaper, the passport may have been a fake one. It’s not clear why South African authorities failed to detect the allegedly fake passport that Mr Gafaranga used to enter the country several times via Johannesburg’s Oliver Tambo International Airport.
The Mail & Guardian, quoting some close relatives of the assassinated former spymaster, reported that in most cases when Gafaranga used the South African passport, he didn’t travel direct from Rwanda.
If Karegeya’s friends and colleagues are correct, reported the Mail & Guardian last week, it would indicate an intelligence failure on the part of South African authorities.
“Political asylum seekers such as Karegeya claim the South African authorities had offered them protection. Meanwhile, an alleged agent of the Paul Kagame regime was frequently in their midst, evading airport security checks with false documents, and courting their inner circle with a view to commit murder,” the Mail & Guardian reported.
Rwanda’s ambassador to South Africa Vincent Karega, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, distanced Kigali from Karageya’s death.
“Even though he (Karageya) declared himself an enemy of Rwanda, we didn’t see any threat. Rwanda wasn’t involved,” he said.
So far no anyone has been arrested by the South African authorities.
But, within the Rwandan political-refugee community living in South Africa, there is one clear suspect involved in Karegeya’s crime: a man called Apollo Gafaranga.
The Rwandan press call him a “business mogul”; he opened a cinema worth $1 million in 2009. His brother, Mr Amini Gafaranga, appears close to the Kagame regime, speaking at Rwanda Day celebrations in London in May 2013, an event endorsed by Kagame.
Two close friends of Karegeya, who spoke to the Mail & Guardian, claimed Gafaranga had spent years earning the former spy chief’s trust, travelling to South Africa on at least four occasions, where he would be Kareyega’s house guest.
And he always travelled with fake documents, they claim.
But on his final and fatal visit, Gafaranga asked to be booked in a hotel, instead of staying at Karegeya’s house.
According to Mail & Guardian, this was because he was increasingly fearful of the Kagame regime, Gafaranga claimed, and he told Karegeya he did not want to jeopardise his friend’s security by staying in his house.
Up to this point, the former Rwanda spymaster-turned-enemy of the Kigali regime didn’t notice any hidden motive.
Karegeya then booked the hotel room at the Michelangelo Towers in Sandton. Karegeya picked his guest upon his arrival and drove him to the hotel where he booked him. That was December 29, according to South African media reports.
The two arrived at the Sandton Hotel, checked in and later on Karegeya left his friend, promising to visit him on the New Year for further political and business discussions.
On New Year’s eve, Karegeya went to visit his friend, without knowing that would be his end, because the man he thought was a friend and a possible financier in his bid to defeat the Rwandan regime was indeed a trained assassin.
Karegeya had no reason to be suspicious of Gafaranga because the latter had been part of Karegeya’s informal network of informants during his tenure as head of external intelligence in Kagame’s government.
And now, it’s likely Karegeya believed he was helping a fellow-oppositionist escape Kigali.
“It’s not unreasonable to help those escaping Rwanda,” said Mr Frank Ntwali, Africa regional chairperson of the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), the opposition party that Karegeya helped to form.
Do not disturb
Karegeya had earlier informed his nephew that he was going to visit his friend, Gafaranga, at Michelangelo Towers Hotel. On the New Year eve when Kareyega did not respond to text messages or phone calls, his nephew became suspicious and went to the hotel.
His nephew then went to the Michelangelo, where he discovered that the hotel room where Karegeya had gone for a meeting was locked.
The manager wouldn’t open the door as there was a “Do Not Disturb” sign on it. The police were called and opened the door.
It is believed that three or four men were involved in the crime.
Karegeya was found dead. Curtain tie-backs and a pillow case were found in the safe. Garafanga was gone, taking only his cellphone and wallet, but leaving his suitcase behind.
Mr Ntwali believes Gafaranga entered South Africa from a different African country on every visit, to avoid detection.
According to Mail & Guardian, Ntwali last saw the former spymaster on December 28, when the two had dinner and discussed their political plans for the new year. Further according to the report, Mr Karegeya was upbeat.
At this point, the former intelligence chief was well aware that Gafaranga was en route.
“About four months ago, he [Apollo] made contact with Patrick and claimed Kagame’s government was harassing him and had closed his business. He asked Karegeya to help him set up a new life in South Africa, and help him start a business here.” Ntwali was quoted by Mail & Guardian.
According to another friend of Karegeya and fellow-exile, who asked not to be named for security reasons, Karegeya had protection from the South African government but asked the authorities to back off, about a year ago, because he felt his movements were too restricted.
Ntwali confirmed this. Karegeya, according to sources, had grown complacent, despite a keen sense of persecution by Rwandan opposition leaders living in South Africa.
Karegeya was described last week by Agency France Press as a brilliant spy who appears to have fallen foul of the assassination tactics he once reportedly practised on others.
“He was on the watch list after fleeing to South Africa” into exile in 2007, the officer added.
In the months prior to his death he had become increasingly nervous about his security.
Those close to him said he must have had no reason to mistrust the person he met at the hotel where he died.
Mr Karegeya had three children, a daughter who lives in Canada and two sons who live with his widow in the US.
Adopted from The Citizen, Monitor’s sister newspaper and AFP