- Katumbi traveled 24 hours after being indicted by government
- Opposition leader has been treated for tear-gas inhalation
Democratic Republic of Congo presidential hopeful Moise Katumbi traveled to South Africa on May 20 for medical treatment, 24 hours after the government charged him with recruiting mercenaries.
Katumbi was hospitalized May 13 after inhaling tear gas fired by police as he and his supporters arrived at court for an investigative hearing into the allegations against him. He was still receiving treatment in Lubumbashi, in southeastern Congo, on May 19 when the government issued a provisional warrant for his arrest.
“We requested an authorization from the prosecutor for medical evacuation, which was granted on Friday,” his lawyer Jacques Bakambe Shesha said by phone from Lubumbashi. “He left for South Africa on Friday evening to receive medical treatment.”
The former governor of copper-rich Katanga province ended months of speculation on May 4 by declaring his intention to run for president, hours after the Justice Ministry opened the case against him. Katumbi, 51, denies the allegations, which he says are intended to undermine his bid to replace President Joseph Kabila in elections scheduled for November.
The U.S. government has also said it believes the allegations to be false, following the detention in April of a U.S. citizen working in the former governor’s security detail. The State Department said on May 20 it’s reviewing the possibility of imposing sanctions against members of the Congolese administration.
“A government cannot call for dialogue among all stakeholders while simultaneously harassing, arresting, and jailing those individuals expected to participate,” Mark Toner, a spokesman for the department, said in a statement.
Kabila, who won elections in 2006 and 2011, is barred from running again by the constitution and is yet to publicly confirm he will step down. He has called for a national political dialogue on the organisation of elections. Opposition leaders, including Katumbi, say the president is deliberately delaying vote preparations in order to hold on to power. On May 11, Congo’s Constitutional Court ruled that Kabila will stay in power if the elections aren’t held.
There is no time limit on Katumbi’s authorization to receive medical treatment abroad, Shesha said, adding that the government should not be able to prevent the presidential hopeful from returning to Congo once his treatment is complete.
“Given that he was authorized to leave there should not be any problems when he needs to return,” the lawyer said.
“His legal team will meet with him in the coming days to discuss the next steps, either in Johannesburg or in London if he is required to move again,” Shesha said. Katumbi has a personal physician in London, where he has received treatment in the past.
Other opposition leaders have called for protests across the country on Thursday to demand that Kabila leave office this year.