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

Kinshasa — An exiled opposition heavyweight barred from returning to the Democratic Republic of Congo to contest December’s presidential election has begun moves in Belgium to reclaim his Congolese passport, his spokesman says.

Moise Katumbi, a wealthy businessman and former regional governor living in self-imposed exile in Belgium, filed a passport application at the Congolese embassy in Brussels, the spokesman said.

The 54-year-old left Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2016 after falling out with then president Joseph Kabila, who stood down in January after 18 years in power after veteran opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi won the elections.

On Wednesday, “@moise_katumbi was at the DRC embassy in Brussels to begin the process of reclaiming his (Congolese) passport”, his spokesman Olivier Kamitatu Etsu tweeted.

Dual citizenship is illegal under DRC law. The authorities, during the Kabila era, said Katumbi had acquired an Italian passport and thus had forfeited his right to Congolese citizenship. Kinshasa also pursued a legal case against him for “usurping his Congolese nationality”.

Katumbi has been “unjustly deprived of his passport until now, and this basic right which every Congolese citizen enjoys must be reinstated,” Kamitatu wrote, accusing the Kabila regime of “political, legal and physical harassment” of him.

But he added there was no date for Katumbi to return home as the conditions were “not right”.

In June 2016, Katumbi was handed a three-year jail term in absentia for alleged property fraud. He has also been accused of hiring several foreign mercenaries to act as his private guards. He denies these charges.

Until 2015, Katumbi — who was born to a Greek businessman father and a Congolese mother — served as a popular governor of his home province of Katanga, a sprawling southeastern region the size of Spain.

Last August, Kabila tried to return home via Zambia to file his bid for the presidential elections but, he says, was prevented from entering the country. Candidates have to be physically in DRC to file their application.

In the campaign for the December 30 election, Katumbi and fellow opposition heavyweight Jean-Pierre Bemba, who was also barred from running, backed opposition candidate Martin Fayulu.

Fayulu came a very close second in the race, according to the official results. He maintains he was denied victory by a closed-doors deal between Kabila and Tshisekedi.

One of DRC’s wealthiest citizens, Katumbi is the owner of the Tout-Puissant Mazembe Football Club, which has won the African Champions League three times.