Congo's Opposition Leader Katumbi Has Prison Sentence Overturned

(Bloomberg) -- Democratic Republic of Congo opposition leader Moise Katumbi had his prison sentence overturned, clearing the way for his possible return to the country after three years in exile, his lawyer said.

Katumbi, the former governor of the cobalt-rich Katanga region, left Congo in May 2016, soon after splitting with the country’s ex-head of state, Joseph Kabila, and announcing his intention to seek the presidency. A month later he was convicted in absentia and sentenced to three years in prison for illegally selling a property. Katumbi, 54, has always claimed the charge was bogus and politically motivated.

Congo's Opposition Leader Katumbi Has Prison Sentence Overturned

The Court of Cassation announced its decision to cancel the original sentence on April 17, one of Katumbi’s lawyers, Jean-Joseph Mukendi Wa Mulumba, said Friday by phone from Congo’s capital, Kinshasa. The new ruling should be finalized in the coming days, he said. While a second charge brought during his exile –- that he hired mercenaries –- is still to be heard by the Supreme Court, Katumbi is “totally free” and able to return home, Mukendi Wa Mulumba said.

Felix Tshisekedi, the leader of Congo’s oldest opposition party, was sworn in as president in January after Kabila’s preferred successor finished third in the national election. Katumbi was an ally of Tshisekedi during much of his exile but ended up backing rival opposition candidate Martin Fayulu, who finished second.

Tshisekedi last month said he would “work actively to create the conditions for the quick return of compatriots who are currently outside the country for political reasons.” Katumbi’s political supporters have called on the president to allow exiles, including their leader, to come back to Congo.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.