PARIS (Reuters) - Three non-government organisations (NGOs) have filed a lawsuit in Paris against the French bank BNP Paribas, alleging that it knowingly approved a transfer of $1.3 million from the Rwandan central bank to an arms dealer during the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
More than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered during a three-month killing spree by Hutu extremists after a plane carrying the president, Juvenal Habyarimana, was shot down.
The three groups - Sherpa, CPCR (Collective of Civil Parties for Rwanda) and Ibuka France - said on Thursday that their suit accused BNP Paribas of complicity in genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. They said a U.N. arms embargo on Rwanda had been in effect at the time of the transfer.
In an emailed statement to Reuters, BNP Paribas said: "We have learned about the suit through the media. At the moment, we do not have sufficient information on the subject to be able to comment on it."
Rwandan central bank governor John Rwangombwa told Reuters in a Whatsapp message that he had no comment on the matter.
The statement from the NGOs said that Hutu colonel Théoneste Bagosora had agreed the purchase of 80 tonnes of arms with a dealer on June 17, 1994, and that these were delivered to Gisenyi in Rwanda via Goma, a city in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The U.N. Security Council had put an arms embargo in place the previous month.
Bagosora, 70, is serving a 35-year sentence for crimes against humanity in connection with the Rwandan genocide.
The NGOs said that BNP's predecessor, Banque Nationale de Paris, which merged with Paribas in 2000 to create BNP Paribas, had knowingly accepted the transfer of $1.3 million from its client, the Rwandan central bank, to the arms dealer's Swiss account.
"According to the numerous testimonies and investigative reports attached to the complaint, BNP would have certainly known the destination of the funds," the NGOs said.
Rwanda opened an inquiry in November into the possible role of at least 20 French military and other officials in the 1994 genocide.
Rwanda, a former German and Belgian colony, had strong ties with France until 1994. Under its current president, Paul Kagame, it has forged close links with the United States and Britain.
Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry, Simon Caraud and Gilles Guillaume in Paris; Clement Uwiringiyimana in Nairobi; Writing by Maya Nikolaeva; Editing by Kevin Liffey