NGOs file Rwanda genocide lawsuit against French bank BNP Paribas

Paris (AFP) - Three non-governmental associations said Thursday that they had filed a lawsuit against BNP Paribas accusing the bank of "complicity" in the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi minority in Rwanda.

The groups accuse the French bank of financing the purchase of "80 tonnes of arms used to carry out genocide" by the Hutu regime, even though "the bank had to have known the genocidal intentions of the country's authorities."

BNP authorised the transfer of $1.3 million (1.1 million euros at current rates) to the regime in June 1994, one month after the United Nations had placed an embargo on weapons deliveries to Rwanda, the groups said in a statement.

They accuse the bank of "complicity in genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity".

A spokesman for the bank told AFP it could not comment on the claims, saying it did not yet have "sufficient details".

The groups allege that BNP authorised the transfer of the money that was held by Rwanda's national bank (BNR) to an account held at Swiss bank UBP by Willem Tertius Ehlers, a South African intermediary who owned an arms-dealing brokerage called Delta Aero.

The four-month genocide led to the massacre of about 800,000 people, mostly from Rwanda's Tutsi minority.

The lawsuit was filed in France by Sherpa, which defends victims of economic crimes; Ibuka France, a Rwanda victims' association; and the France-based Collective of Civil Parties for Rwanda, which pursues claims against genocide suspects.

Kigali has repeatedly accused Paris of having a hand in the genocide and of being slow to prosecute some of its kingpins living in France.