Kigali, May 17, 2010 (FH) - A defence witness sentenced in April to six months in jail for corruption in the trial of Jean Rwabahizi, a former driver of the French ambassador in Rwanda, was acquitted and immediately released on Saturday by a Gacaca appeal court in Kigali.

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The Nyakabanda district court found that Abdou Manirahuga had not tried to corrupt or to intimidate the president of the Gacaca court of Nyarugenge district (Kigali) which subsequently convicted him.

In first instance, the judges ruled that Abdou Maniraguha had been suborned by the defendant's family. Members of the family were said to have come to the presiding judge's home two days prior to the start of the trial in an attempt to bribe the magistrate.

Gacaca courts are mandated to take disciplinary action against witnesses who lie or otherwise interfere unduly with the course of justice.

However, the appeal court ruled that there was "no evidence" to substantiate the charges made.

Abdou Maniraguha was Jean Rwabahizi main defence witness.

Jean Rwabahizi  was arrested by the Rwandan police in Kigali on January 11 upon his return from France, where he had followed his employer, the French ambassador, after Kigali severed diplomatic ties with Paris in 2006.

Relations between the two countries were restored in November 2009.

After his departure to France, Jean Rwabahizi had been convicted in absentia, in 2007, to 30 years in prison by a Gacaca court in Kigali. He was found guilty of complicity in the massacre of Tutsis who had sought refuge in a Kigali church during the 1994 genocide and of the murder of another driver at the French Embassy, his colleague Déo Twagirayezu.

When arrested, Rwabahizi requested a rehearing trial. In April, he was sentenced to 19 years in jail.


© Hirondelle News Agency