The Democratic Republic of Congo has launched an investigation into the alleged use of foreign mercenaries by opposition politician Moise Katumbi, government officials said Wednesday.
Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba said the government has “documented proof” that several former American soldiers are currently working for Katumbi in Katanga Province as bodyguards.
Katumbi, who once served as governor of the DRC’s copper mining Katanga region, left President Joseph Kabila’s government in September and joined the opposition.
Last Sunday, an opposition group petitioned Katumbi to stand as a candidate in this year’s presidential election. On Wednesday Katumbi accepted the petition.
He has denied he is recruiting mercenaries and said the allegations are intended to hurt him politically.
But Information Minister Lambert Mende said the mercenaries were being recruited through a company based in the U.S. state of Virginia. “People were arrested in Lubumbashi recently while trying to disturb the security in the street with Mr. Katumbi on the 21st of April and when they made the verification of their identity, we saw among them an American citizen identifying himself as an agriculture expert. But following the investigation that was made by our security personnel, it seemed that he was a former marine who is working as a mercenary,” he said.
Mende said when the individual was brought to Kinshasa and was being interrogated by Congolese security personnel, he was recognized by embassy officials as a mercenary who served in Kosovo and Iraq.
Mende did not reveal the identity of the American citizen. He said the government is awaiting the outcome of an investigation ordered by the justice minister.
Mende dismissed Katumbi’s claim that the mercenary accusation is an attempt to hurt him politically. “He can say whatever he wants but if security is concerned, we must investigate. May be it’s not true but it must be investigated because we are talking about the security of this country and the security of our people,” Mende said.
The 51-year-old Katumbi is a wealthy businessman is also head of the prestigious Tout-Puissant Mazembe football club, three-time winner of the African Champions League.
The U.N. Security Council last March called on the DRC government and its “national partners,” including the independent National Electoral Commission, to ensure a transparent and credible process towards holding presidential and legislative elections in November.
President Kabila’s second and constitutionally last mandate ends in November, and the opposition has accused him of seeking to extend his stay in power.
Mende said registration of new voters has begun, but for now, the government is focusing on the security of the country.