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DRC: Moïse Katumbi is still trying to get his company back

By Nelly Fualdes
Posted on Tuesday, 18 February 2020 07:19

Democratic Republic of Congo's opposition Presidential candidate Moise Katumbi
Democratic Republic of Congo's opposition Presidential candidate Moise Katumbi talks to his supporters after leaving the prosecutor's office in Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe/

While the Court of Cassation — the final recourse in the French judicial system — ruled inadmissible the appeals of the Necotrans liquidators in their dispute with Moïse Katumbi, the fight is far from over for the former governor of Katanga.

“It is a decision that restores all the rights to Moïse Katumbi and allows him to start the process of reclaiming his assets.” The former opponent of Joseph Kabila, who now defines himself as a “constructive opponent” of Felix Tshisekedi, welcomed the French Court’s decision of 5 February.

The French judges rejected the appeals of the liquidators of Necotrans, which challenged the decision of the Paris Court of Appeal of 15 May 2018.

But if his supporters claim that the Congolese businessman and political leader is now “restored to his rights”, he will have to work hard to recover the assets of his mining subcontracting company, Mining Company of Katanga (MCK).

It all started in 2015, when the former governor of Katanga, now in opposition to Joseph Kabila, entered the presidential race. He decided to sell the 85% stake in MCK that his wife controls through her company, Astalia Investment Ltd, to Necotrans Mining, a subsidiary of the French group Necotrans Holding.

The contract provided for the payment, set at $140 million (129 million euro), to be made in several instalments over three years. A clause provided that the buyer — Necotrans Mining — would not be able to dispose of the company until the full amount had been paid.

Successive bankruptcies and judicial cover ups

When Necotrans Holding went bankrupt in 2017, Moïse Katumbi received only $20 million. However, his assets were sold as part of the liquidation process and sanctioned by the Paris Commercial Court. The Bolloré group took control of its port activity, while Octavia, a company managed by Pascal Beveraggi, took over the mining activity — including MCK. The company continued under the name NB Mining.

A Paris Court of Appeal, however, annulled the sale on 15 May 2018 — a decision vindicated by the Court of Cassation. According to both courts, the mandate of the liquidators did not allow them to dispose of the assets of the former MCK in this way. Theoretically, this decision therefore puts MCK back into the fold of Necotrans Holding.

However, since 2017, not only has Necotrans disappeared, but NB Mining has also gone bankrupt. In July 2018, the Commercial Court of Lubumbashi ordered the company to be liquidated.

Pascal Beveraggi says Moïse Katumbi is responsible for this, because by “trying to recover NB Mining’s shares by all means, [he] caused the company increasing difficulties”.

“At the time, Moïse Katumbi had written to all the mining companies in Katanga to alert them not to do business with the company,” said a source close to Katumbi.

Beveraggi-Katumbi: the duel continues

Faced with these difficulties, Pascal Beveraggi resigned in November 2017, his lawyer, Édouard Tricaud, told Jeune Afrique. In the weeks following the bankruptcy ruling, Beveraggi proposed a plan to take over NB Mining, via a new company called NB Mining Africa. Tricaud explained this this was a company that Beveraggi presided over, “but which is majority controlled by Congolese capital, in accordance with the new mining code in force in the DRC”.

According to people close to Katumbi, the assets of the ex-MCK, including civil engineering equipment, were then put up for sale. Our source estimates that about 55% of the equipment was actually sold.

“False”, said Pascal Beveraggi’s lawyer, according to whom the entire business was taken over, as well as the 2,000 employees. The defence for Katumbi, who were contacted several times, did not respond to our queries.

Although the French Court of Cassation confirmed the return of the shares to the liquidators of Necotrans Holding, “these shares have in no way returned to the hands of Moïse Katumbi, and neither Pascal Beveraggi nor his companies are affected by these court decisions”, Beveraggi stated in a press release.

According to our information, Katumbi is considering filing a lawsuit to claim compensation from the first liquidator of Necotrans. The latter did not respond to our enquiries, nor did Katumbi’s defence.