By Pascale Antonie
PARIS (Reuters) – Congolese opposition leader Moise Katumbi said he will return from Europe to fight presidential elections later this year, dismissing an arrest warrant against him as “fake”.
The multi-millionaire owner of Congolese soccer club TP Mazembe said he had now recovered from what he and his supporters have alleged was a police attempt to poison him in May – an accusation rejected by the government.
“I’m going to come back even if they have their fake police warrant … I am a candidate in 2016,” Katumbi told Reuters in an interview in a Paris hotel on Monday.
Any return would heighten political tensions in Democratic Republic of Congo where opposition groups have accused President Joseph Kabila of trying to cling to power by cracking down on dissent and delaying elections due in November.
Authorities issued an arrest warrant for Katumbi in May on charges of hiring foreign mercenaries in a plot against the republic.
The prosecutor general let him leave the country a day later to receive medical treatment for an unspecified illness, as long as he returned once his health improved.
A month after that, he was convicted in absentia in a separate case on charges of selling a building that he did not own and sentenced to three years in prison.
Katumbi, who has since traveled to South Africa, Britain and France, has denied all the charges, calling them politically motivated. “My health is improving very well. I’m going back as soon as possible … I’m not scared about anything,” he said.
He and his supporters have accused police of injecting him with a toxic substance during a demonstration in his hometown of Lubumbashi.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende dismissed the allegation.
“He wants to distract the population,” Mende told Reuters. “He was injected with something and he only notices three months after?”
Kabila, in power since 2001, is barred by constitutional term limits from standing again.
The government has said the vote will probably be delayed because of logistical problems, and denied accusations that it is trying to put off the election for political reasons.
Katumbi, the former governor of the mineral-rich Katanga province, called on world powers to impose more sanctions on Congolese officials to force the government to hold the election.
The United States blocked the assets of the police commissioner of the capital Kinshasa last month for what it described as the violent suppression of opposition to Kabila’s government. European powers have also discussed sanctions.
(Additional reporting and writing by Aaron Ross in Kinshasa; Editing by Edward McAllister and Andrew Heavens)