Arusha, 16 July 2009 (FH) - The former Minister for Planning, Augustin Ngirabatware, prosecuted for crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), has discharged his lead lawyer, American David Thomas,  just as the opening of his trial is scheduled for 3 August, reports Hirondelle Agency.

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A Tribunal source disclosed that British Peter Herbert has now been designated by the Registry to replace the American professor.

Reportedly the American professor was turned down on grounds that the accused lacked confidence on his lawyer and allegedly the two lacked communication.

Arrested in Germany on 17 September 2007, the former minister has been in the custody of the ICTR since 8 October 2008.

Ngirabatware claimed his innocence at the time of his first initial appearance on 10 October 2008, on the basis of an indictment dated from 1999.

Following the amendment of initial text, a new appearance took place on 10 February, where he once again pleaded not guilty.

The former minister, 51, is accused of having used public funds to finance the activities of the Interahamwe militiamen, main armed element of the genocide.

The trial has already been deferred twice.

A doctor in economics from the University of Freiburg (Switzerland), the former minister was, in his country, a professor at the National University of Rwanda (1986-1994), then the minister of planning (1990-1994).

After his departure into exile in July 1994, he worked in various research institutes in Gabon and in France.

The brilliant academic is also the son-in-law of the alleged financier of the genocide, the wealthy Rwandan businessman Felicien Kubuga, still at large, less than two years before the closure of the ICTR.

The first person indicted by the ICTR to be arrested in Germany, Ngirabatware will be tried by a Chamber presided by the Tanzanian Judge William Hussein Sekule.

The prosecution team will be led by Wallace Kapaya, also a Tanzanian.

Four other ICTR prisoners, including another former minister of the government in place during the genocide, are waiting to appear.


© Hirondelle News Agency