Why Rwanda adopted law on mutual legal assistance

Last week parliament adopted a law governing mutual legal assistance in criminal matters which allows cooperation between countries for the purpose of collecting and exchanging information in an effort to enforce criminal laws.

The development provides a mechanism through which Rwanda can request assistance or provide assistance to a foreign state in criminal matters.

The law among other things is expected to ensure Rwanda’s compliance with international standards and practices as a financial jurisdiction with regard to mutual legal assistance and exchange of information.

The adoption of the law is aimed at further completing efforts to propel the Kigali International Financial Centre which seeks to position Rwanda as a preferred financial jurisdiction for investments into Africa, as well as reform the domestic industry.

According to the Ministry of Justice, the law was deemed necessary for the establishment of Kigali International Financial Centre (KIFC) as mutual legal assistance may be sought and obtained, whether at the stage of crime detection, investigations and prosecutions before courts.

According to Solina Nyirahabimana, Minister of State in charge of Constitutional & Legal Affairs, with Rwanda becoming a financial hub and an attractive investment destination, it is important to have a mechanism to address any cross-border crimes that could emerge.

“Jurisdiction in criminal law is territorial. Thus, the need for Rwanda to have a law on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters to be able to seek from or provide to other states legal formalities and procedures to hold accountable cross-border criminals,” she said.

The law she said provides certainty of Rwanda’s willingness and commitment to operate as a safe and standards compliant jurisdiction that is ready to curb any cross border crimes.

The law also ensures compliance for Rwanda as a member of groupings such as Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group which have made a commitment to share information and provide assistance to member states on matters relating with cross-border transactions, crimes committed in different jurisdictions and exchange of information.

Antonny Mukulu Nshimye, the Chief Legal Officer at Rwanda Finance Limited which spearheads the development and promotion of KIFC said that with growing investments all over the world Mutual Legal Assistance has become a norm for international standards and is highly recommended by OECD.

“Under the rules of the OECD especially with respect to financial centres it is a prerequisite for a jurisdiction to have laws on Mutual Legal Assistance; exchange of information is an international benchmark. Such laws are highly recommended by OECD to increase transparency and exchange of information of state parties,” he said.

Nshimye added that while countries can enter into bilateral agreements on legal assistance, the law provides for clear procedures and requirements for any request relating to exchange of information.

“As a financial centre, this speaks to our mission to ensure a safe and compliant jurisdiction for investors,” he said.

To ensure relevance of the law, Nshimye said that during the development of the law, there was benchmarking on the basis of international models on the subject and customized to the Rwandan context in consultation with a range of stakeholders from public and private sectors.

The law he said, does not undo existing bilateral agreements that Rwanda has with other countries and will operate in tandem with existing bilateral agreements.

International experts and market observers say that globally, legal and regulatory framework play a key role building the reputation of an International Finance Centre.

JP Fabri, an economist and co-founding partner of Seed Consultancy, a boutique research-driven advisory firm based in Malta in the European Union said that this is further proof that KIFC is building a centre of international repute.

Fabri noted that the vision for the centre to be a financial hub for the region is becoming concrete through a set of complementary actions and initiatives.

“International Finance Centres are based on a number of elements, one of which, being the regulatory framework. Anti-Money Laundering considerations and compliance to international laws and standards are critically important for a modern and future-proof IFC and this is yet another proof that Kigali International Financial Centre is building a centre of international repute. The vision for the centre to be a financial hub for the region is becoming concrete through a set of complementary actions and initiatives,” he said.

This is one of multiple regulations and laws under review and revision to improve the attractiveness of the local system to local and international capital.

In 2020, Rwanda Finance Limited steered the laws and regulation amendment such as anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing law, partnership law and law relating to investment promotion and facilitation among others.