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DRC: Kabila Critics Want Probe Into Ties Between Family-run Bank, Electoral Commission

FILE - Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila arrives for an African leaders' meeting to discuss the political crisis his country, in Luanda, Angola, Oct. 26, 2016. Tensions in the DRC are running high after a controversial deal extended Kabila's term in office by nearly a year and a half.

New allegations about ties between the Democratic Republic of Congo’s electoral commission and a bank linked to the president’s family have sparked calls for an investigation. The allegations come amid heightened tensions about delayed elections in the country.

A Belgian newspaper published a report last week saying the Congolese electoral commission paid at least $2.4 million in fees to a bank with links to DRC President Joseph Kabila.

The paper also said the commission withdrew $7.5 million in cash from the bank, BGFI, for reasons that are unclear. The claims relate to a $25 million credit facility the bank extended to the electoral commission, known as the CENI.

DRC elections were supposed to be held this month, but have been postponed until at least April 2018. The government has claimed that CENI's lack of financial resources is one of the main reasons behind the delay.

Georges Kapiamba, president of the Congolese Association for Access to Justice, told VOA the revelations are even more serious because they concern the resources put at the disposal of the CENI and because the electoral commission pretended it was unable to organize elections in the constitutional timeframe on the grounds that it did not have the money.

Kapiamba has written to Congo’s attorney general, asking him investigate. But he does not expect his request will be acted on.

Based on our past experience, Kapiamba said, we are not convinced the attorney general can do it with the independence we would like. Kapiamba claims those with the resources or who belong to the ruling political family can obtain protection whatever the gravity or degree of the acts they commit.

The government of Belgium has also called for a full investigation.

FILE - Congolese opposition supporters chant slogans as they destroy a billboard featuring President Joseph Kabila during a march calliing on Kabila to step down, in Kinshasa, DRC, Sept. 19, 2016.
FILE - Congolese opposition supporters chant slogans as they destroy a billboard featuring President Joseph Kabila during a march calliing on Kabila to step down, in Kinshasa, DRC, Sept. 19, 2016.

Denials of wrongdoing

Both CENI and BGFI have denied wrongdoing.

According to the bank, the fees are in no way unusual for a line of credit of this size, while the CENI's president has claimed that the cash withdrawals were made to pay salaries, rent vehicles and buy fuel in remote parts of the country which are unserved by banks.

The disclosures have attracted extra attention because an adoptive brother of Kabila is BGFI's CEO and one of the president's sisters was listed as the owner of 40 percent of the bank as of October 2014.

The allegations, the source of which is documents handed to the media by a former BGFI employee, also target Albert Yuma, president of Gecamines, the state mining company, and a close ally of Kabila.

The Belgian newspaper article says in 2013 the central bank deposited $43 million in a BGFI account held by a food processing company chaired by Yuma that was never repaid.

The same bank reportedly extended a loan of $30 million to Gecamines in September 2015 and deducted interested payments worth several million dollars on two separate occasions.

Yuma and the bank have denied any wrongdoing. They say the accusation about the central bank diverting public funds to Yuma's company is “false and without foundation,” and that the second interest payment was taken from Gecamines due to a mistake that was rectified.

Kapiamba told VOA he is unconvinced by the explanations, but unfortunately, he added, the Congolese justice system does not allow the population to confirm or quash the allegations.