LUBUMBASHI, DR Congo, Thursday
Embattled DR Congo opposition leader Moise Katumbi, who last month quit the country ostensibly for medical treatment, was sentenced to three years in jail on Thursday over a real estate dispute.
Mr Katumbi, a football magnate, was seen as the leading challenger to President Joseph Kabila in elections due to be held this year, but the sentence effectively makes him ineligible to stand.
A three-judge tribunal in Lubumbashi, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s second biggest city in the southeast of the country, rendered the decision against Katumbi on a day marked by twists and turns in the case.
The court found Katumbi guilty of fraud over a Greek national’s allegations that he forged and presented false documents in the acquisition of a property the Greek national said he would eventually inherit.
Mr Katumbi was sentenced to three years in jail and ordered to pay $1 million in damages to the plaintiff, as well as a fine of 900,000 Congolese francs ($940).
The public prosecutor had been seeking a five-year jail term and a loss of Katumbi’s political rights for five years after serving his jail term.
The verdict elicited a certain amount of confusion and criticism in the hours after it was announced, however.
According to an AFP journalist at the courthouse, one of the three judges apparently refused to sign onto the judgement before it was rendered.
But by the end of the day, the journalist saw the judgement come back signed by all three judges.
Katumbi’s attorney Mumba Gama told AFP the defiant judge had finally succumbed “under pressure”.
Meanwhile, Congo called on Wednesday for its diplomats in France to be better protected after the country’s embassy in Paris was attacked by a mob that broke into the mission and started a fire.
Attackers broke down a door and forced their way into the embassy’s courtyard in the early hours Tuesday, setting a mattress alight in a caretakers lodge as well as burning a car outside the building, a Paris police source said.