KAMPALA- The former Rwandan spymaster found dead in a South African hotel room on Wednesday was “murdered”, police there said yesterday.
“A case of murder has been opened and investigations are on-going,” police spokesperson Col Katlego Mogale told this newspaper by telephone yesterday. “The motive is unknown…”
No suspect had been taken into custody and the former head of Rwanda’s external security organisation had not previously notified police of any threats to his life, she said.
Col Patrick Karegeya was an exiled Rwandan army officer stripped of his rank in 2006 after falling out with president Paul Kagame who accuses him of working with others in the opposition Rwanda National Congress (RNC) to destabilise the country, partly by masterminding grenade attacks in the capital.
According to police and family, his body, discovered roughly 20 hours after his death, bore marks of strangulation to the mouth and neck --- an indication that his assailants possibly overpowered him after protracted physical confrontation.
Yesterday, RNC coordinator Theogene Rudasingwa, a former Rwandan ambassador who has also since fallen out with the Rwandan government he is accused of seeking to topple, issued a statement saying Karegeya’s death was a political assassination.
“Colonel Patrick Karegeya was a courageous soldier who died on the battlefield. We are determined more than ever before to carry the torch of struggling for freedom, for which he died. We shall win,” Rudasingwa’s statement read in part.
Despite repeated efforts, this newspaper was unable to reach both Rwanda government foreign minister and spokesperson, Ms Louise Mushikiwabo, and the country’s ambassador to Uganda, Maj Gen Frank Mugambage, for comments on the allegations made against Kigali by the RNC.
Detectives found a bloodied towel and rope in the room where Karegeya’s body was found on Wednesday evening. A review of the CCTV footage, according to highly-placed security sources, showed four or more assailants were involved in his elimination.
Police spokesperson Mogale said they would not comment on allegations that hired hit men snuffed out the political refugee who has lived in South Africa for six years.
“I can only speak on what the South African police have found, not what other people, including those out of South Africa, are saying,” she said in reference to claims by the US-based Rudasingwa.
There were initial reports that the deceased was likely injected with a lethal substance during a scuffle with his attackers who suffocated him, and results of a post-mortem report expected out today will confirm cause of death.
Blood oozed from Karegeya’s mouth and his face “darkened like charcoal”, according to his nephew David Batenga, who recounted the Colonel’s last days to this newspaper.
A fellow exiled dissident, former army chief Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, survived two assassination attempts since fleeing to South Africa in 2010, the same year he formed the RNC along with Karegeya and others.
Lt Gen Nyamwasa is quoted by the BBC saying Karegeya had gone to the upmarket Michelangelo Towers Hotel to meet “somebody he knew very well, somebody who had come from Kigali”.
He accused the Rwandan government of being behind the killing.
Karegeya’s last days
His final hours were “jolly” before the tragic end on New Year or its eve.
Col Karegeya’s nephew David Batenga, who is working as an accountant in South Africa, said a long-time friend of the deceased telephoned the Colonel to book accommodation for him, which he did at Michelangelo Towers Hotel on December 29.
The visitor (names withheld) on previous occasions stayed at Karegeya’s secluded exile home in Johannesburg, but chose this time a hotel ostensibly because he had to meet other business associates whom he never wanted to know the Colonel’s place of abode.
“They were no strangers; their relationship was perfect according to me, and I guess according to Karegeya,” Mr Batenga said.
The Colonel picked the visitor up from Sandton train station on Sunday morning, before checking into the hotel. The next day, Karegeya, Batenga and the guest -- who said he had flown in from Dubai -- enjoyed drinks at the cafeteria of the hotel, before each parted ways on a happy note.
Mr Batenga said when he telephoned close to 1pm on Tuesday, Karegeya said he was rushing for a meeting with his visitor at the hotel and they later exchanged cell phone short text messages (SMS) in the evening, their last communication.
When he dialled again at about 12:04 a.m. on Tuesday night to convey New Year wishes, both the Colonel’s mobile phone and landline at home went unanswered and he assumed Karegeya was absorbed in the euphoria of the New Year celebrations.
Mr Batenga and colleagues got concerned when Karegeya’s mobile phone went off momentarily and no one received calls to his home telephone.
He then drove out to the residence but did not find the Colonel home, and so headed to the hotel where he said he found Karegeya’s car parked.
On inquiring at the reception, he was told intercom calls to the booked room went unanswered and on physical inspection, hotel staff said the guest had flagged the “don’t disturb” label on the door. On his insistence, the hotel security opened the door, and found Karegeya who appeared to be asleep, his legs slightly raised and Batenga was told they could not wake him up.
Batenga says he got suspicious and pressed the hotel staff who alerted police who reported promptly to inspect the room.
“A lady at the reception walked over to me in the lobby and asked if I was fine. I said yes. Then she said: Unfortunately, the guest is dead!” said Batenga, initially mistaking the deceased to be a hotel resident.
He later moved upstairs with police, and was horrified to find the body of Karegeya in a pool of blood on the mattress, his face “darkened like charcoal”. The volume of the television set in the hotel room had been turned up in what police suspect was to muffle any noise during the scuffle with assailants.
“This was totally a murder case; it was thought through and thoroughly planned ahead of time,” he said.
A review of CCTV footage, according to sources, shows up to four people may have been involved in Karegeya’s killing.