Who said luxury was only for the rich? Rwanda splurges on luxury jets

Feb 14, 2010 12:00 AM | By De Wet Potgieter and Raymond Joseph
The cash-strapped Rwandan government has splurged millions of rands on two ultra-luxury passenger jets to fly its president and VIPs around the world – and tried to hide ownership of the jets behind a South African-based company.

Rwanda is battling to rebuild its fragile economy after the 1994 genocide in which 800000 people were killed. The country is still dependent on international aid and donor funding.

The UN says 60% of Rwanda’s mostly rural population live in poverty.

The pair of Bombardier Global Express BD-700 jets – with a new price tag of $50-million each – was acquired in 2003 and 2008, respectively.

They are “owned” by Repli Investments 29 (Pty) Ltd, a company registered in South Africa.

Repli has three directors, one based in Pretoria and the other two in Rwanda, according to official records of the Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office (Cipro).

An investigation has revealed that the South African-based director, Paul Nyirubutma, works as second counsellor at the Rwandan embassy in Pretoria. The other directors, who are also believed to be Rwandan government officials, are Paul Manasseh Nshuti and Sekoko Harari. They live in Kigali.

Repli, which is involved in “financial intermediation”, according to Cipro, was established in May 2008 and was set up to conceal the real ownership of the jets.

The jets, registrations ZS-ESA and ZS-XRS, are piloted by South Africans and “operated” by Lanseria-based ExecuJet.

A Rwandan embassy spokesman last week confirmed that Nyirubutma was a second councillor at the embassy, but denied knowledge of the jets or that his government owned them.

Nyirubutma this week confirmed that the jets were bought for the use of the Rwandan president, the vice-president and the country’s prime minister. “We are from a troubled region that has a troubled history of genocide and civil war. We needed safe, secure and cost-effective planes for my country’s VIPs. Security was paramount,” he said.

Nyirubutma said he was appointed as one of the directors of Repli Investments to allow the government to have a say in the operations of the aircraft “for security reasons”.

He said his government had decided to base the jets in South Africa because his country did not have the “skills, expertise or knowledge” to maintain them.

Both were available for charter when not needed by the Rwandan government.

“We went into a structure of partial ownership, basically to provide a right of first refusal and also to provide a level of control on the crafts’ operations,” Nyirubutma said.

The XRS Global Express corporate jet is described on Bombardier’s official website as “the most luxurious, most accomplished business aircraft ever built … accommodating the desires of the most sophisticated and demanding traveller with no compromise”.

Aviation experts say the XRS is capable of flying “halfway around the world without refuelling”.

It is one of the biggest business-class jets available .

ExecuJet’s Steve Bothma refused to comment.

The newest jet, the ZS-XRS, has been photographed all over the world by aircraft spotters.

Spotter websites are abuzz with talk of the aircraft’s Rwandan ownership.

People working at Lanseria say that it is an open secret that the jet is owned by Rwanda.

“Everyone here knows the jets are for the use of Rwandan president Paul Kagame and other government officials, and belong to his government,” said a well-placed source at Lanseria, who asked not to be named.

“ExecuJet maintains the jet on behalf of Repli Investments and whenever Kagame needs to get to Europe, the UK or the US, the Rwandan government ‘charters’ this plane (ZS-XRS) from ExecuJet,” said the source.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair is understood to have been a passenger on the aircraft on several occasions.

Andrew Siebert, a US-based plane spotter, photographed the aircraft at Boeing Field in Seattle last June.

He said in an e-mail: “It was carrying the Rwandan president at the time.”

He added: “Someone commented on my photo saying the following: ‘ZS-XRS is registered in Lanseria, but is actually based in Kigali, Rwanda, where it operates exclusively for the president of Rwanda.’ ”

Another plane spotter photographed the aircraft at Zurich Airport in January last year.

He wrote on his blog: “This 2007 Global Express XRS is appropriately registered as ZS-XRS to Repli Investments 29 (Pty) Ltd, but is being operated by ExecuJet South Africa, and on this flight was carrying the Rwandan delegation to the World Economic Forum.”

He said when he photographed it, the aircraft had just come from Kigali.

Another plane spotter, known as “Drewski”, wrote: “Whoa! South African reg’d GLEX. The person on board left the airport with an entourage of 10 SUVs and undercover police cars.”

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Author: ellyakanga

I am Eleneus Akanga. Welcome to my blog about my experience as a Rwandan journalist and all that comes with the trade in East Africa. It's been a great journey so far but very challenging at times. Join me, let's get cracking! ellyakanga@usa.com

11 thoughts on “Who said luxury was only for the rich? Rwanda splurges on luxury jets”

  1. While i think it is a duty of every nation to ensure the safety of their leaders, including safe transportation and movement, i am at pain understanding why the Rwandan government chose to register these planes in a foreign country? Could it be a case of too much tax if indeed they were to be registered in Rwanda or is the government hiding something? Does anyone know?

  2. The article titled “Rwanda splurges on luxury jets” published in the Sunday Times’ edition of 14 February 2010 contains inaccuracies and distortions which should not go unaddressed. The authors of the article deliberately chose to spice the piece with unwarranted innuendos which demonstrate bias.

    The authors seeking to pen a sensational story forgot to mention the explanation provided that the investments towards the ownership of the aircrafts were made by private Rwandan interests and not by the Government. The holding company to which Repli Investments is a subsidiary is a known entity trading openly in various sectors (telecommunications, manufacturing, financial services…) in East Africa and beyond. A cursory corporate check would have confirmed the existence of the holding company to which Repli Investments is a wholly owned subsidiary. The Rwandan holding company saw the ownership of the luxury jets as an investment opportunity that addresses the demand for the executive services by various VIPs, super stars and corporate executives.

    The authors of the article conveniently ignored the fact that the arrangement between the Government of Rwanda and Execujet South Africa is an innovative way to minimise costs of flying. This arrangement is covered under an open charter contract that is available at request.

    Presenting the two separate arrangements as an attempt to conceal ownership of aircrafts is a sign of evident bad faith while detailed explanations have been provided.

    It is rightly stated in the piece that the Government of Rwanda still uses the aircraft on a charter basis. This contradicts the idea conveyed by quoting aircraft spotters that the aircraft is exclusively used by the Government of Rwanda. Execujet SA has a vast client base which includes governments and corporations. The aircraft referred to is primarily on offer for charter by any client. This could also have been verified by its operator. The client base of Execujet SA explains the high standard of aircrafts it operates. As a matter of fact, the same aircraft is currently under charter in South America.

  3. Statement in Response to Times article on Luxury Jets
    20 February 2010
    On 14 February 2010, the South African newspaper Times published an article by De Wet Potgieter and Raymond Joseph, titled “Rwanda splurges on luxury jets” on the alleged purchase of two luxury jets by the Government of Rwanda.

    The facts below serve to correct the misinformation published in the article:
    The Government of Rwanda does not own any luxury passenger jets;
    The planes referred to in the article are owned by a private company which has some Rwandan private shareholders, but no shares are owned by the Government of Rwanda;
    The Government of Rwanda has a charter agreement with ExecuJet; and deliberately chose this option because it is cost effective, flexible and offers appropriate security
    The cost of chartering planes is costed and public in the National Budget of the Government of Rwanda;

    It should therefore be noted that the article published by the South African “Times” is not based on facts and is simply defamatory.

    1. Dear Kalisa, please stop this nonsense!
      these jets are owned by General Kagame, the president of Rwanda.
      He cant register them in Rwanda simply because he still state money while poverty is killing rwanda people every day,every second!
      General Kagame needs to be investigated if possible put in jail..apparently he is also a war criminal, having killed or being responsible of the death of 5 millions of innocents Congolese people.
      He needs to be taken to ICC if this is confirmed..which is actually the case.
      Paece and Love

  4. Cut the crap.Kagame owns this planes and all Rwandans know.Thanks to Umuvugizi and Gahuzamiryango!Nothing striking though. All presidents in Africa are like that.So, I am not mad at Kagame.He does what all other presidents do to harm Africa.

  5. we need to understand some factors which are easy
    to understand.

    when a baby is still too young whatever he owns must not be his unless he grows,RWANDA is the some
    populations are kids so slavery we be there,till

    the populations will be able to stand still and
    ask their own wealth;on which these leaders are
    enjoying like milk and bread

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