Friday, January 22, 2021

"The Epic Hunt for One of the World’s Most Wanted Men"

From GQ, January 19:

He was one of Africa’s richest moguls and helped unleash the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Then Félicien Kabuga vanished and stayed hidden for more than two decades—until recently, when the United Nations’ war crimes detectives picked up his trail and began to close in.

Bob Reid rubbed his eyes and stared again at the computer screen. Outside, daylight was fading, but the detective barely noticed. He'd been holed up in his apartment since the coronavirus had emptied the streets of Arusha, hushing the clamor of the otherwise vibrant east African capital. Reid was fine with the tranquility. He hadn't come to Tanzania for the safaris or the day trips to Kilimanjaro. The window in his study faced a concrete wall. He was locked in on his laptop.

As he scrolled with his mouse, Reid watched phone numbers zip past. Thousands and thousands of them, alphabetized by the relay stations from which they had originated in Europe. Amid the blur of data, he found himself adrenalized by a hunch. The mystery that had consumed him for months suddenly felt solvable, and if it was, Reid let himself believe, the epic hunt for one of the world's most wanted criminals—a search that had quietly been under way for nearly a quarter of a century—might finally come to an end.

Among the small coterie of specialists who track the world's most monstrous fugitives, Bob Reid has a well-earned reputation for finding his man. Even when the trail grows cold for years. A decade ago, as chief of operations at the U.N.'s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Reid directed the search for the Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic, the so-called Butcher of Bosnia, who was responsible for the murder of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995. Mladic had been running for 16 years when Reid tracked him to a shabby farmhouse in northern Serbia. Masked agents hauled him away to face the tribunal, which convicted Mladic of genocide and crimes against humanity, sentencing him in 2017 to life in prison.

There had been others, of course: During his nearly 25 years chasing war criminals for the U.N., Reid had helped round up a litany of fugitive outlaws—from military commanders to homicidal strongmen—who'd fled the scenes of some of the most depraved episodes in recent memory. He had come to this highly specialized line of work after a storied law enforcement career in New South Wales, in his native Australia, where he pursued murderers and drug lords. But Reid is not of the breed of swashbuckling detectives. He is genial in his dealings with colleagues, gregarious in a way that belies the focused attention he must summon to confront the perpetrators of heinous atrocities. His success depends on a rare obsession for detail and a deep commitment to teamwork. He is clever and he is careful, and perhaps not surprisingly, Bob Reid is uncommonly patient—a particularly advantageous trait in a line of work that requires endurance.

All fugitives want to stay hidden, but the criminals Reid has hunted can be especially good at doing so. Often they have at their disposal the sorts of assets that common absconders lack: small armies or vast fortunes. Loyalists and sycophants and true believers can make disappearing easier. But nothing helps more than time. Years wash by and people forget. Memory becomes history and the hard edges of human wickedness are somehow sanded off. This is what the fugitive hopes, at least.

On that day in March, thousands of miles from Bob Reid's home office, an old man sat in a forgettable building on an unremarkable street—unaware of the phone numbers filling Reid's computer screen, untroubled by the notion that his past might finally be catching up with him. Félicien Kabuga had been in hiding since the late 1990s, flushed from the life of extravagance and privilege he had enjoyed as one of Rwanda's richest citizens after the extraordinary spasm of violence that tore apart the country in three terrorizing months in 1994.

Kabuga had been considered a key culprit in the genocide that left nearly a million people dead. As a powerful member of the ruling Hutu elite, he helped fan a virulent hatred of the minority Tutsi. He turned his commercial properties into training grounds for a marauding militia—the so-called Interahamwe—and he transformed a radio station he owned into a propaganda outlet bent on inciting the slaughter of Tutsi civilians. When the gruesome murdering spree was unleashed, Kabuga allegedly supplied the killers with hundreds of thousands of machetes, the crude tools that soon became emblems of the entire tragic period.

In the chaotic days following the atrocities, Kabuga had slipped out of Rwanda and, for a short while, had managed to live openly in exile—protected by powerful government sympathizers in Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Kenya.

But in 1998, when the U.N.'s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda charged him with crimes against humanity, he went underground. Suddenly, the mogul who had become a monster turned into something new—a kind of ghost who'd slipped into the fog.

Initially the United Nations pursued him in fits and starts, as the hunt, forced to depend on a network of unreliable informants, was disrupted by internal debates about whether he might be in Europe or Africa. The search lapsed into lethargy and clues were missed.

Then, after years of futility, a new prosecutor—a charismatic Belgian named Serge Brammertz—took charge of the case at the U.N.'s International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals and shook things up. He reached out to Reid in 2016, asking the detective to help reinvigorate the hunt for the now elderly Kabuga. The pair realized that the passage of time had created new urgency to catch a fugitive who would certainly soon be dead. And so Reid joined Brammertz in The Hague, and he began taking a hard look at where the luckless search had gone wrong. He scrutinized European police files, and he reviewed the work of the Africa-based task force that the previous tribunal had assembled in the late '90s. He scoured a decade's worth of communications and dead ends and slowly started to glimpse the faint traces of Kabuga's footprints.

Finally, with the world hunkered down last spring, Reid was working into the sultry evening—processing those phone numbers and suddenly feeling the thrill of a breakthrough. From what he could tell, an unusual number of calls had been bouncing off a particular cell tower outside Paris, in an unremarkable stretch of exurban sprawl. He had stumbled onto something. Though Reid wasn't yet sure just what....


I thought he was still in the DRC. That was the reason for a somewhat cryptic mention of the hunters in a post on cobalt going on five years ago:

May 26, 2016
A couple weeks ago we posted a seemingly innocuous piece with a boring headline: "'Freeport Sinks On Sale of Africa Copper Mine To Chinese' (FCX; LUN.TO)".

I figured there were at best two thousand people in the whole world who knew or cared about the back story and real import of what was going on so I'd just drop it as an Easter egg for the cognoscenti and other assorted electric vehicle/conflict mineral/African warlord/Elon Musk/extractive industry/Génocidaire hunter/U.S. political corruption watchers to find.

Well now that cat's out of the bag.....

Should the perpetrators of genocide should be turned over to their victims for whatever punishment the victims saw fit.