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African refugee who had participated in the Rwandan Genocide and burned down his Habitat House in Iowa loses appeal

CEDAR RAPIDS – In an opinion issued this week, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence of a man who actively participated in the Rwandan genocide, committed naturalization fraud and tried to burn down his Habitat House in Iowa.

Ken Ngombwa, 57, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was convicted by a federal jury in January 2016 of one count of naturalization fraud; one count of conspiracy to unlawfully procure citizenship; and one count of making a materially false statement to agents of the Department of Homeland Security.

On March 2, 2017, United States District Court Judge Linda R. Reade sentenced Ngombwa to serve 15 years’ imprisonment. Judge Reade also revoked Ngombwa’s citizenship.

On appeal, Ngombwa challenged the denial of his motion for new trial claiming his trial counsel provided constitutionally ineffective assistance at trial. Ngombwa also claimed the district court erred at sentencing by relying upon statements of genocide victims given to United States investigators in Rwanda; his two prior convictions for genocide in the local Gacaca (“grass courts”) of Rwanda; and the testimony of an expert on the Rwandan genocide who testified via video link at the sentencing.

The Court of Appeals rejected each of Ngombwa’s challenges. The Court noted Ngombwa “told a number of lies” in the course of gaining entry into the United States and eventual citizenship. Most prominent of these lies was Ngombwa’s claim that he was the brother of Faustin Twagiramungu, a moderate Hutu and former Prime Minister of Rwanda. Ngombwa also lied about certain other family relationships and about having previously been beaten in the Rwandan capital. The Court found trial counsel made strategic decisions as to how to limit the impact of adverse evidence concerning the Ngombwa’s false claims regarding his family relationships.

The Court of Appeals also found the district court properly applied the sentencing guidelines and did not error in considering evidence concerning Ngombwa’s participation in the Rwandan genocide. At the sentencing hearing, the government presented testimony about the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which hundreds of thousands of people from the Tutsi ethnic group were killed. The evidence showed that Ngombwa was charged and convicted in two Gacaca courts in that country for his involvement in the Rwandan genocide. He was also named in an Indictment brought in 2010 against Jean Uwinkindi by the United Nations Joint Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, as a co-participant in a “joint criminal enterprise whose common purpose was the commission of genocide against the Tutsi racial or ethnic group and persons identified as Tutsi or presumed to support the Tutsi[.]” Uwinkindi was convicted of the charge in the Indictment and sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2015.

Further, the evidence presented at sentencing showed that Ngombwa is currently under Indictment in the Republic of Rwanda. That Indictment was brought by the country’s Prosecutor General in 2014. An international arrest warrant remains outstanding on that Indictment. The Rwandan Indictment charges Ngombwa in Count 1 with “Genocide” and alleges, in part, that Ngombwa “is individually liable for having, between 7th April 1994 and July 1994 ordered and committed crimes perpetrated with the intent to destroy in whole the Tutsi ethnic group.” The Indictment alleges Ngombwa drove members of the Interahamwe to the Catholic church “in order to attack and kill Tutsi who had sought refuge there.” Further, it alleges that Ngombwa transported members of the Interahamwe to the Kanzene communal office to kill Tutsi seeking refuge there. It also alleged Ngombwa and the Interahamwe militia, armed with guns and traditional weapons, “such as machetes, spears clubs and other traditional tools, attacked the Tutsi who had sought refuge in the premises of priests” at the Catholic Church, and attacked and killed them. There are additional allegations in Count 1. Moreover, Count 2 charges Ngombwa with “extermination as a crime against humanity.” Count 3 charges Ngombwa with “murder as a crime against humanity.”

Department of Homeland Security agents testified at sentencing that as part of their investigation, they personally interviewed multiple witnesses in Rwanda who saw Ngombwa commit acts of violence during the Rwandan genocide. For instance, many witnesses stated that Ngombwa drove members of the Interahamwe (a youth militia group) and the military – killers – to locations where they conducted mass killings of Tutsi. According to the witnesses, Ngombwa made derogatory statements concerning the Tutsi; he encouraged others to kill Tutsi; and he personally participated in the killings. According to the witnesses, Ngombwa also participated in the theft or looting of property belonging to Tutsi.

In addition, evidence was presented at sentencing about Ngombwa setting fire to his Habitat for Humanity home in Cedar Rapids in 2013.

“Today’s decision marks the successful conclusion of a remarkable case; one that helped bring a measure of justice to a criminal participant in a horrible chapter in modern human history,” said United States Attorney Deegan. “This case also is an important example of why our nation’s immigration laws must be respected and why those who violate them must be held accountable.”

The case was originally referred to the Department of Homeland Security in 2011 by the Prosecutor General of Rwanda. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Richard L. Murphy and Ravi T. Narayan, and was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations.

Ken Ngombwa
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