French intelligence agents spied on the children of Rwanda’s most-wanted genocide fugitive to track him down to an apartment in a Paris suburb and end a 26-year-long manhunt, the head of the police unit who arrested Felicien Kabuga said.
The inquiry gathered pace in March after an intelligence sharing meeting between investigators from France, Britain, and Belgium, home to some of Kabuga’s children, as well as Europe’s Europol law enforcement agency and a team from a U.N. tribunal.
The coronavirus lockdown paralysing most of Europe meant many investigations were put on hold, allowing a focus on Kabuga’s file, said Eric Emeraux, head of the Gendarmerie’s Central Office for Combating Crimes Against Humanity.
The dragnet subsequently closed in on one of the alleged chief financiers of the Rwandan genocide, suspected of bankrolling and arming the militias that slaughtered 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994.
“We realised … that trail from the children protecting their father converged on Asnieres-sur-Seine,” Emeraux told Reuters, referring to a Paris suburb. “We also discovered one of his children was renting an apartment there.”
Wiretaps were installed and the property placed under surveillance. Intelligence indicated there was good reason to believe that someone other than one of his offspring was residing in the apartment.
“We decided to open the door, without being entirely sure of who we would find inside,” Emeraux said. “I didn’t sleep the night before.”
The 84-year-old fugitive had been living in a third-floor flat on the Rue du Reverend Pere Christian Gilbert in Asnieres-sur-Seine, a well-off neighbourhood on the northern fringe of Paris.
Neighbours described a frail, elderly man who said little and before the lockdown would often stroll outside of his apartment. One resident in the same block said Kabuga might have lived there for four or five years.
Kabuga’s ability to hide to evade an international manhunt for more than 20 years has raised questions over whether he had accomplices outside of his family.