French bank probed for alleged complicity in Rwandan genocide

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The skulls of victims of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda are displayed at Kigali Memorial Center in Kigali, Rwanda, 14 May 2012.

JOHANNESBURG - French banking group BNP Paribas is under investigation over its alleged complicity in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

France has assigned magistrates to investigate allegations that the banking giant BNP Paribas was complicit in the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi minority in Rwanda, a source close to the case told AFP.

The Paris judiciary confirmed it had opened an investigation and asked the Paris genocide and war crimes division, which is already handling 25 other cases linked to the Rwandan genocide, to run the probe.

BNP Paribas is accused of transferring more than R17-million to a South African arms dealer, who used it to provide weapons for the perpetrators of the slaughter.

Three non-governmental organisations brought a complaint against the bank.

READ: US fines BNP Paribas $246m over forex oversight

The litigations head of the Sherpa NGO, Marie-Laure Guislain, said her organisation the Collective for the Civil Parties for Rwanda and Ibuka France filed a complaint on 29 June last year against BNP for complicity in war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

"Through this complaint we are also here to remind people that certain economic actors, particularly financial institutions, can be at the source of conflict, of genocide." she said.

"And that is what we are trying to show through this complaint, the potential implication of financial institutions in conflict zones, and more generally speaking, in the serious violations of human rights."

Guislain said they believed that BNP participated in the genocide by accepting two transfers from accounts at the National Bank of Rwanda - therefore the bank of the genocidal government at that time - which had accounts at BNP.

READ: France's top court bars access to Rwanda genocide files

Sherpa traced the bank transfers to the Swiss account of a South African arms dealer called Mr Ehlers.

The 1994 genocide was an attempt by Rwanda’s Hutu majority to exterminate the Tutsi minority.

As many as a million people were killed in just 100 days.

The opening of an inquiry will not automatically lead to a trial. but  it has boosted the belief among investigators that the new information warrants further investigation