KINSHASA (Reuters) - Congolese prosecutors have dropped an investigation into allegations opposition leader Moise Katumbi hired mercenaries, a document showed on Tuesday, opening the door for him to return home from three years in exile.
Katumbi, the former governor of Democratic Republic of Congo’s copper-mining Katanga region, fled Congo in May 2016 in the face of accusations he had hired mercenaries, including a former U.S. soldier, as part of a plot against former President Joseph Kabila’s government.
Katumbi denied the charges, which he said were aimed at preventing him from running in an election to replace Kabila. The poll was meant to take place in 2016 but was delayed by two years amid accusations Kabila was trying to cling to power.
Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi was declared the winner of a Dec. 30 vote and has moved in the first three months of his presidency to reverse prosecutions of several politicians that Kabila’s opponents said were politically motivated.
“Given that the president of the republic has made easing political tensions his priority ..., we consider it inopportune to continue the investigation,” Congo’s top military prosecutor, Timothee Mukuntu, wrote in a formal decision abandoning the probe into Katumbi.
The document was dated March 1 but was only made public on Tuesday.
Earlier this month, an appeals court overturned Katumbi’s conviction in 2016 for real estate fraud, for which he was sentenced in absentia to three years in prison.
His lawyer said at the time his client could soon return to Congo, although Katumbi has yet to comment on the decisions.
Katumbi was blocked from re-entering Congo last year to file his candidacy for the presidential election — a race polls showed him leading. He ended up backing opposition leader Martin Fayulu instead.
Fayulu finished second to Tshisekedi, although multiple sources told Reuters the results were rigged in favour of Tshisekedi, who was seen by Kabila as less of a threat to the outgoing administration’s interests.
Kabila and Tshisekedi’s camps deny the vote was rigged.
Reporting By Aaron Ross; Editing by Chris Reese