DR Congo announces probe into opposition use of US mercenaries

DR Congo announces probe into opposition use of US mercenaries

DR Congo’s justice minister said on Wednesday he had ordered an investigation into the alleged use of foreign mercenaries by opposition politician Moise Katumbi, a likely contender in a presidential poll due this year.

Alexis Thambwe Mwamba said Katumbi’s camp was recruiting mercenaries specialised in “training and the use of weapons, as security guards or bodyguards”, using a “network with a company based in Virginia in the United States”.

The minister told journalists he had given orders to the general prosecutor to open a judicial case in the southeastern former province of Katanga.

DR Congo's ordered an investigation into the alleged use of foreign mercenaries by opposition politician Moise Katumbi, a likely contender in presidential el...

DR Congo’s ordered an investigation into the alleged use of foreign mercenaries by opposition politician Moise Katumbi, a likely contender in presidential elections due this year ©Federico Scoppa (AFP/File)

“We have documented proof that several former American soldiers are currently in Katanga in the service of Mr Katumbi.”

On April 24, four members of Katumbi’s entourage including an American were arrested in DR Congo’s second city Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga, and transferred to Kinshasa.

Thambwe accused American “ex-corporal Lewis Darryl of having tried to force a police barrier during an opposition protest” in Lubumbashi on Friday and “having tried to flee during his transfer from Ndjili airport to Kinshasa”.

The minister said seven other former American soldiers and at least two South Africans had been staying in residences belonging to Katumbi, “for reasons that the inquiry will clarify”.

Katumbi was formerly governor of the southeastern province of Katanga, which has since been split into several different administrative regions.

He joined the opposition in September after quitting as governor and leaving the party of President Joseph Kabila.

Popular and charismatic, the 51-year-old wealthy businessman is also head of the prestigious Tout-Puissant Mazembe football club, three-time winner of the African Champions League.

A coalition of opponents of Kabila announced Sunday that Katumbi would run in the presidential election, though he has not personally confirmed his candidacy.

On Friday the politician accused the regime of targeting him with “false allegations”, drawing reference to the “supposed recruitment of foreign mercenaries in Katanga province” and a report, by a TV station close to the government, of “the existence of training camps”.

Authorities are under pressure from the international community to hold the polls as planned in November before Kabila’s second — and constitutionally last — mandate ends, but this appears increasingly unlikely.

DR Congo’s political climate has grown increasingly tense, with Kabila’s opponents accusing him of seeking to extend his stay in power.

The country has been in crisis since Kabila’s re-election in late 2011 in polls marred by irregularities and massive fraud.

Kabila assumed power after his father, president Laurent Kabila, was assassinated in 2001.

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