‘Hotel Rwanda’ Hero Sues Greek Air Charter for Aiding Kidnap

Paul Rusesabagina, an outspoken critic of the Rwandan government who gained international fame through the 2004 movie “Hotel Rwanda,” sued a Greek air charter company in the U.S. for helping Rwandan agents kidnap him in an elaborate hoax.

Rusesabagina, 66, has been detained in his former country since late August, when he “disappeared” after boarding a GainJet Aviation SA flight for what he believed was a speaking engagement in Burundi, according to a complaint filed Monday in San Antonio federal court. Instead, he was flown to Rwanda, where he was arrested on arrival in Kigali and is being held in Nyarugenge prison.

‘Hotel Rwanda’ Hero Sues Greek Air Charter for Aiding Kidnap

Rusesabagina was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, America’s highest civilian honor, for saving more than 1,200 countrymen hiding in his hotel from machete-wielding gangs during the 1994 genocide that claimed hundreds of thousands of Rwandan lives. Rusesabagina’s family has lived in exile in central Texas for several years after fleeing Belgium, where Rusesabagina holds citizenship. He has repeatedly criticized the African country’s leadership for political repression and extensive human-rights abuses.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame recently announced the former hotelier will be tried on nine terrorism-related charges alongside Rwandan rebels accused of murder. Rusesabagina maintains he has never aided terrorists and only assisted diplomatic and humanitarian interests.

Rusesabagina claims GainJet’s pilot and co-pilot were responsible for their passengers’ safety yet did nothing when they saw his abductors bind his hands before the plane landed in Kigali instead of Burundi.

“GainJet and its employees and agents did not issue any international ‘Mayday’ call or ‘squawk ‘7700” on the radio -- the internationally recognized code for distress or an emergency situation in flight,” Robert Hilliard, the Rusesabagina family’s lawyer, said in a 90-page complaint that catalogs alleged human-rights abuses by Kagame’s government and political party.

The complaint also accuses Constantin Niyomwungere, a Rwandan secret service agent who duped Rusesabagina into the fictitious speaking engagement, of conspiring with GainJet and of violating U.S. anti-terrorism and terror-victims’ rights laws.

Calls to the Rwandan prosecutor-general’s office seeking comment weren’t answered.

Kagame has said Rwanda did nothing wrong in the arrest of Rusesabagina, and the Rwandan government has rejected allegations by international human-rights groups that the country’s intelligence network has abducted and killed former allies in Rwanda and abroad.

The case is Rusesabagina v. GainJet Aviation, 20-cv-1422, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (San Antonio).

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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