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Investigation of Former Congo Official Dropped - 2003-11-21

Officials in the new Congolese government of national reconciliation say they have dropped an investigation into massive financial fraud by a leading politician in the government of ex-dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. The announcement comes as flocks of ex-Mobutu collaborators once involved in the systematic pillage of the country's finances, make their return to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Leon Kengo wa Dondo, prime minister from 1994 to 1997, in the corrupt government of former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, in the country formally called Zaire, made his return to Kinshasa last week, to be greeted by angry mobs on the streets who pelted his motorcade with stones and garbage on his way back into the city from the airport.

His return was preceded by the dropping of an investigation into allegations that he had embezzled tens of millions of dollars during his time in office in a regime widely condemned for some of the worst corruption Africa has ever seen.

Following President Mobutu's fall in 1997 and five years of war ending last July, Mr. Kengo's return has been welcomed by the new power sharing government that plans to lead the country back to democratic elections in two years.

Vice minister of Justice Koloso Sumaili explained the dropping of the corruption probe saying the country was more interested in reconciliation that opening up old wounds and destabilizing the peace process. But he added that a truth and reconciliation commission would be looking into the Kengo affair, along with many other cases of other people's financial and human rights abuses before and throughout the country's conflict.

Diplomats in the capital, Kinshasa, say that the way the government is handling the Kengo affair indicates that it has struck a political deal with Mobutu former collaborators.

Meanwhile, top judicial officials in Congo have made it clear that amnesty will apply only to war and political crimes, and not to financial fraud that comes under common law.

Many Mobutu collaborators are already in government after having switched allegiances to the government of President Joseph Kabila or rebel groups that had signed onto the peace process. Those, like Mr. Kengo, who are not part of the government, are now making their way back as well, seizing on the peace process and its opportunity for political and financial dealmaking ahead of the planned elections.

One of Mr. Mobutu's sons, Nzanga, has already arrived in Kinshasa and another, Manda, is expected back in Kinshasa this weekend.