Brussels, December 1, 2009 (FH) - The Assize Court of Brussels unanimously sentenced on Tuesday Ephrem Nkezabera, dubbed the 'genocide banker', to 30 years in prison for war crimes including murders and rapes during the 1994 genocide.

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It is the first time in Belgian judicial history that rape is considered a war crime.

Nkezabera, 57, was at the time of the genocide one of the five directors of the Commercial Bank of Rwanda. He was also the economic and financial advisor of the Interahamwe militia, the spearhead of the genocidal killings, and a shareholder of the extremist radio RTLM.

Undergoing treatment for cancer, he has not attended his month-long trial. He was also absent when the verdict was announced - and so were his lawyers. The defendant's request for a postponement of the proceedings on medical grounds had been dismissed.

The Assize Court followed the recommendation of the Prosecutor who had called for a 30-year sentence rather than lifelong imprisonment, partly in consideration of Nkezabera's cooperation during the investigation.

Nkebazera admitted during the inquiry that he had financed the Interahamwe and the RTLM. However, he denied the rape charges, alleging willing partners.

Legally, he now has the right to oppose the sentence and to request a new trial in his presence.

The trial is the fourth in Belgium linked to the genocide in Rwanda, in which the United Nations estimate that around 800,000 people were killed. The Assize Court of Brussels has already condemned to heavy jail sentences two nuns, a university teacher and a businessman in 2001, two traders in 2005 and a former Major of the Rwandan army in July 2007.

Ephrem Nkezabera, who was in hiding in Brussels, was arrested in June 2004, at the request of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).


© Hirondelle News Agency