DRC: Did Félix Tshisekedi’s entourage pressure a judge?

By Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala
Posted on Thursday, 15 December 2022 11:09

DRC’s President Félix Tshisekedi during his speech at the Palais du Peuple on 10 October 2022. © PRESIDENCY RDC

The president of Lubumbashi’s commercial court has tendered his resignation to Félix Tshisekedi, blaming one of his close advisers for attempting to influence the judiciary in a case involving Moïse Katumbi. Will this case tarnish the Congolese presidency?

In the letter of resignation that he sent to Félix Tshisekedi, Judge Laurent Batubenga Ilunga did not beat about the bush. The letter, which was seen by us, said the judge was throwing in the towel because of the pressure he was under, explicitly citing the influential Peter Kazadi, one of the president’s advisers.

Kazadi, a lawyer, was a member of Tshisekedi’s cabinet when the latter led the Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social (UDPS). He is one of Kinshasa’s provincial members of parliament and among the Congolese regime’s strongmen.

Judge Ilunga had been presiding over Lubumbashi’s commercial court until his resignation. He accuses Kazadi of having used an intermediary to try to influence the judiciary and obtain a ruling against Katumbi, whose alliance with the head of state within the Union Sacrée is already hanging by a thread.

Katumbi-Beveraggi tussle

According to the magistrate, Kazadi wanted to force him to “validate the seizures and allocations made without a writ of execution by the companies Octavia Limited and NB Mining Africa SA, which belong to Pascal Beveraggi”. If this had gone on as planned, the announcement would have been detrimental to the former governor of Katanga, who has been involved in a $99m dispute with Pascal Beveraggi, a French businessman, for several years.

“[…] Peter Kazadi claimed [he wasn’t] acting on his own behalf, but in the government’s interests. [He wanted] me to get involved as head of a court to help deprive – in his [own] words – a political adversary [of] financial resources that would give him the means to fight the regime during the next elections,” Ilunga told Tshisekedi in the letter. “[Peter Kazadi] says that he has been given the task of steering the implementation of the magistrates and that I risk losing my position at the next implementation if I do not comply.”

That is not all. The magistrate added that he received threatening messages and anonymous calls. He also said he had been invited by the head of state’s special security adviser to travel to Kinshasa on 13 December and that the case was due to be called before his court on 23 December. He therefore decided to resign from his position.

“I don’t know this man”

Kazadi has since told us that all the accusations levelled against him were false. “I have never seen this man and do not know him,” he says in reference to Ilunga, expressing surprise at being accused of having acted through an intermediary without this intermediary’s name “ever being mentioned”.

“For me,” he says, “it is very clear that Moïse Katumbi is behind this judge. I have nothing to do with it and I know nothing about this case.” Kazadi has also denied having sought to deprive Katanga’s former governor of financial resources.

Last month, Justicia Asbl (a Congolese association that aims to protect human rights) accused Kazadi of having the bailiff, Zabalega Assani, arrested after he refused to validate a “forgery and use of forgery” to help Beveraggi’s company Octavia. The person concerned, who conjured up what have been termed as “lies” that members of Katumbi’s party Ensemble pour la République have spread, has also denied these accusations.

Between 2016 and 2017, judges Chantal Ramazani Wazuri (president of Lubumbashi’s Court of Peace) and Jacques Mbuyi (chamber president at the Court of First Instance of the same jurisdiction) denounced pressure and threats from the political power so that Katumbi would be convicted. There was even talk of an assassination attempt while Joseph Kabila was still in power. However, the denunciation of these attempts at intimidation elicited a lot of reactions.

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