Congo Opposition Leader Blocked From Returning Home, Party Says

(Bloomberg) -- Congolese opposition leader Moise Katumbi was twice refused permission to return home to register for the December presidential election, his campaign team said. The government rejected the allegations.

Katumbi, in self-imposed exile since May 2016, had planned to fly to Lubumbashi, his home town in southeast Democratic Republic of Congo, on Aug. 3 but his jet was denied permission to land, according to his chief-of-staff, Olivier Kamitatu. Instead, he flew to Ndola in northern Zambia and tried to cross the land border on Friday and Saturday, Kamitatu said.

Congo Opposition Leader Blocked From Returning Home, Party Says

The first attempt was thwarted by a closed border post while on Saturday Congolese officials instructed their Zambian counterparts not to let Katumbi cross, Kamitatu said. “The Zambian authorities have officially informed us that the Congolese government has refused to allow him to cross the border and enter his country,” he said by phone Saturday evening.

Thousands of supporters gathered at the Congo-Zambia border hoping to welcome Katumbi.

Congo Communications Minister Lambert Mende denied Kamitatu’s allegations, saying by phone on Sunday that it was “one more manipulation” and that Katumbi didn’t submit a request to land or present himself to border officials. Zambia’s Information Minister Dora Siliya said the situation is “an internal matter” for Congo’s government and people.

Registration Deadline

“Zambia’s immigration officials said they have received instructions from authorities in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo not to allow Mr. Katumbi entry,” according to a bulletin on Zambian state television Saturday night.

Registration ends Wednesday for candidates seeking to run in the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for Dec. 23. “Everything is being done to prevent Moise Katumbi from entering his country and filing his candidacy,” Kamitatu said.

Katumbi, a one-time ally of President Joseph Kabila and former governor of copper-rich Katanga province, was convicted in absentia in 2016 of illegally selling a property and sentenced to three years in prison. Several legal inquiries remain open, including allegations that Katumbi hired mercenaries. He denies any wrongdoing and his lawyers say the charges are politically motivated.

Mende last week said Katumbi would be detained as soon as he sets foot in Congo. Katumbi “must come back to put himself at the disposition of the public prosecutor,” Mende said.

If Congolese officials wanted to arrest Katumbi as a fugitive, “the government would have been happy for him to land in Lubumbashi and would immediately have proceeded to arrest him,” Kamitatu said. “It’s a farce.”

Congo’s constitution prevents Kabila from seeking a third term, but the president’s continuing refusal to exclude himself from the next election is fueling opposition suspicions that he plans to change or reinterpret the rules. The president’s coalition has launched private consultations to choose its candidate -- with some members urging Kabila to run again.

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