Congo Premier Travels to China as IMF Seeks Debt Clarification

(Bloomberg) -- Republic of Congo Prime Minister Clement Mouamba traveled to China at the weekend as part of a government effort to provide clarity on its outstanding debt position in order to obtain an International Monetary Fund bailout, according to people familiar with the matter.

The IMF is delaying its review of a proposed aid package the central African nation needs to help stabilize an economy that contracted for the past two years after a slump in crude prices. Congo owes creditors more than $9 billion and has held talks with the African Development Bank and the World Bank about possible new loans.

Mouamba flew to Beijing on July 20 to obtain clarity on loans to Congo by lenders including Export-Import Bank of China, according to the people who asked not to be identified because they’re not authorized to speak about the matter. The IMF in April said it needs to know exactly what the country owes to bilateral and commercial lenders before it provides funding.

“Mouamba is in China to consolidate the strategic partnership existing between Congo and China and seek ways and means to attract more Chinese investment,” Rigobert Maboundou, who is advising the government on its negotiations with the IMF, said by phone Monday from Brazzaville, the capital. “If China could help us at this trying moment in our bailout agreement with the IMF, it will be welcomed.”

Review Delayed

Government spokesman Thierry Moungalla confirmed the visit, but declined to comment further.

The IMF’s executive board had been set to discuss a proposed three-year arrangement for Congo at a meeting on July 11, according to a calendar published on the Washington-based lender’s website earlier this month. The meeting didn’t take place and has yet to be rescheduled.

The IMF didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment on whether it’s seeking clarity on Congolese loans from China or provide reasons for the delayed review of the proposed program.

“IMF staff and the authorities have reached staff-level understandings on policies that could be supported by the fund under a three-year arrangement as mentioned in our April press release,” spokesman Robert Walker said by email. “The IMF Executive Board is expected to consider a financial arrangement to support Congo’s economic program in the coming weeks.”

Corruption Allegations

The pro-government Troubadour weekly newspaper on July 7 accused Maboundou of having embezzled 114 billion CFA francs during his tenure as agriculture minister between January 2008 and March 2016. Maboundou, currently chief of staff in Mouamba’s office, denied the allegations.

“The accusations made by Troubadour newspaper about me are false,” he said “The accusations from Troubadour are part of a political witch hunt and I also know where it is coming from. Our goal is to have the bailout agreement and that’s what President Sassou Nguesso has asked us to do".

Ruled for two decades by Denis Sassou Nguesso and home to sub-Saharan Africa’s fourth-biggest oil reserves, Congo ranks among the world’s 20 most corrupt nations by anti-graft campaigners Transparency International.

The country’s debt has more than tripled since 2010 to more than 110 percent of gross domestic product. London-based advocacy group Global Witness alleges a series of pre-financing deals by the state oil company were used by people close to or part of Sassou Nguesso’s family as vehicles for corruption. The government has rejected the claims.

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