Moise Katumbi. Picture: REUTERS/KENNY KATOMBE
Moise Katumbi. Picture: REUTERS/KENNY KATOMBE

Kinshasa — Congolese opposition leader Moise Katumbi was twice refused permission to return home to register for the December presidential election, says his campaign team.

The government has rejected the allegations.

Katumbi, in self-imposed exile since May 2016, had planned to fly to Lubumbashi, his home town in southeast Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), on August 3, but his jet was denied permission to land, according to his chief of staff, Olivier Kamitatu.

Instead, he flew to Ndola in northern Zambia and tried to cross the land border on Friday and Saturday, Kamitatu said.

The first attempt was thwarted by a closed border post, while on Saturday Congolese officials instructed their Zambian counterparts not to let Katumbi cross, Kamitatu said.

DRC Communications Minister Lambert Mende denied Kamitatu’s allegations, saying by phone on Sunday it was "one more manipulation" and that Katumbi did not submit a request to land or present himself to border officials.

"Zambia’s immigration officials said they have received instructions from authorities in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo not to allow Mr Katumbi entry," according to a bulletin on Zambian state television on Saturday night.

Registration ends on Wednesday for candidates seeking to run in the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for December 23.

"Everything is being done to prevent Moise Katumbi from entering his country and filing his candidacy," Kamitatu said.

Katumbi, a one-time ally of President Joseph Kabila and former governor of the copper-rich Katanga province, was convicted in absentia in 2016 of illegally selling a property.

He was sentenced to three years in prison.

Mende said last week that Katumbi, who lives in Belgium, would be detained as soon as he set foot in the DRC. Katumbi "must come back to put himself at the disposition of the public prosecutor", Mende said.

The DRC’s constitution prevents Kabila from seeking a third term as president, but his continued refusal to exclude himself from the next election is fuelling opposition suspicions that he plans to change or reinterpret the rules.