KINSHASA Moise Katumbi, the embattled DR Congo opposition leader who quit the country last week ostensibly for medical treatment, has now flown from South Africa to London, one of his lawyers said Sunday.
Katumbi, a football magnate seen as the leading challenger to President Joseph Kabila for the top job in the mineral-rich country, needs “rest” and it is not clear when he will be heading home, Georges Kapiamba told AFP.
With political tensions soaring over expectations that Kabila wants to extend his rule despite being barred from a third term, Katumbi has been all but forced into exile as he faces charges of undermining state security.
The 51-year-old owner of the Tout-Puissant Mazembe football club had this month announced plans to stand in the election due later this year, but was swiftly hit with an investigation into claims he hired foreign mercenaries.
Katumbi flew to South Africa on May 20 and was admitted to hospital in Johannesburg, with followers saying he was injured during clashes between police and his supporters a week earlier.
“Moise Katumbi left Johannesburg on Friday and landed in London on Saturday,” said lawyer Kapiamba.
Another member of Katumbi’s team, speaking from Johannesburg, added: “He is out of hospital. He is well, but because of the disorder in Congo, he prefers to rest for the moment.
“He will go back to Congo but we still don’t know when,” the source said, insisting: “He is a candidate for the presidency.”
– Moved hospitals for security –
Doctors have recommended he rest, the source added, saying Katumbi had travelled to London because his usual doctor was there.
The businessman left Johannesburg on a commercial jet while his wife Carine, who had accompanied him to South Africa, has gone back to Lubumbashi, the Congolese mining hub that serves as Katumbi’s power base.
Katumbi’s entourage in South Africa said the politician had needed treatment after he inhaled tear gas during clashes between police and his supporters in Lubumbashi.
But he left the country just a day after he was charged over the allegations that he hired foreign mercenaries, raising questions over the real reasons for the trip.
Katumbi, who calls the charges against him “grotesque lies”, was transferred between hospitals in Johannesburg for security reasons, according to supporters.
“Strangers came to the reception to ask where he was,” said a source close to Katumbi. “The hospital’s security staff judged this to be suspicious.”
Congolese authorities have allowed Katumbi to seek treatment abroad on the condition that he “is not vocal on the case before the courts”, according to government spokesman Lambert Mende.
Katumbi, a former ally of Kabila’s, joined the opposition in September when he quit as governor of Katanga province.
Kabila has been in power since his father’s assassination in 2001. Like much of the opposition, Katumbi accuses him of seeking to stay in office beyond the two terms allowed under the constitution.
At least one person was reported killed Thursday as rallies across DR Congo against Kabila turned violent.