Incarcerated in Makala Prison since 20 January, Fortunat Biselele, known as ‘Bifort’, was one of Félix Tshisekedi’s closest confidants until he was ousted from the presidential office. A private adviser to the head of state from the outset of his term in office, he was the man who handled sensitive missions. His arrest came as a bombshell. At the time, it was difficult to understand the charges against Tshisekedi’s discreet right-hand man, who was known for his close contacts with Kigali.
Charged with “treason, undermining state security and spreading fake news”, Bifort will stand trial from 6 June before the Kinshasa/Gombe High Court. On 29 January, Richard Bondo Tshimbombo, one of his lawyers, wrote to Justice Minister Rose Mutombo Kiese, asking her to facilitate his client’s transfer to hospital. The request was on the grounds that “the brutal disruption of care and the moral torture” that he has allegedly been subjected to “since his forceful extraction from the military hospital at Camp Colonel Tshatshi are aggravating […] his state of health”.
Following his arrest on 14 January, he was held for seven days at the premises of the l’Agence nationale de renseignement (ANR), the domestic intelligence agency. Investigators questioned Biselele three times by the investigators: first on the afternoon of the same day, then twice on 17 January. We have obtained the minutes of these hearings, as well as the note from the l’Office de police judiciaire (OPJ) and judicial police office, which were drawn up on 18 January.
Among the concerns of the ANR investigators is the interview Biselele gave to journalist and producer Alain Foka as part of a programme devoted to DRC and the crisis with Rwanda, broadcast on YouTube on 6 January.
Coming out of his usual reserve, Biselele spoke of the existence of economic arrangements – an initiative of Tshisekedi made at the start of his mandate – for security purposes between Kinshasa and Kigali. These were extremely sensitive remarks in the midst of the war with the M23 rebels, whom Kinshasa accuses Kigali of supporting.
[Foka] told me that I should take part in order to talk about President Tshisekedi’s good faith towards Rwanda
At his first hearing, the former adviser spoke at length about this broadcast. He explained that he had met Foka in September 2022 at Finance Minister Nicolas Kazadi’s office. He says he refused the initial offer for an interview, before accepting it a few months later. The interview took place at his home on 29 December 2022. “[Foka] told me that I should take part in order to talk about President Tshisekedi’s good faith towards Rwanda,” he told investigators to justify his appearance on camera.
Biselele claims to have received prior approval from the president, a green light that he says was confirmed by Pacifique Kahasha, Tshisekedi’s official representative. Arrested at the same time as Bifort but released shortly afterwards, Kahasha also answered investigators’ questions on 14 January. On the ANR premises, the close associate of Vital Kamerhe talked about his role in the Foka show, describing the latter as a “friend” whom he knew through his brother, Alain Kahasha, former director of Airtel in Niger.
The president’s chief representative explained that he had been appointed by Tshisekedi to manage, along with the journalist, “the production of a documentary to be used to prepare the campaign or to become part of its supporting material”.
According to Pacifique Kahasha, the list of contributors appointed by the Congolese authorities had been approved by the president, who had to review the content before publication. Kahasha says Biselele was indeed on that list, although he denies having obtained the president’s specific agreement for Biselele’s filmed appearance: “Bifort, who is in a better hierarchical position than me, should not be saying it was I who obtained the boss’s agreement for him to appear.”
However, Kahasha seems to make a distinction between the existence of a “campaign documentary”, which was to be subject to possible “censorship”, and the 6 January interview at the the origin of the affair. “Those who took part [in the programme] didn’t know it was part of the campaign,” he says. “All I did was tell the boss that Alain Foka was going to shoot a segment as a Christmas present […] and he approved. […] The segment was very much appreciated, even by the boss.” Kahasha declined to comment on the former adviser’s statements.
The programme caused quite a stir at the time: In it, Biselele outlined a proposal that Tshisekedi was to have made to his counterpart, Paul Kagame. “We are a rich territory, we are neighbours and no war will move our borders, we are neighbours for life. I’m proposing that we work together on win-win projects. I have minerals in my land that interest you. With your address book, you can contact investors around the world and we’ll work together to develop the area,” he said.
The mention of this ‘win-win’ partnership, in the words of the adviser, immediately sparked off a heated debate at a time when the war with the M23 was in full swing. According to the OPJ memo, “the accused knew full well that such remarks would make the Supreme Authority look like an accomplice of the Rwandan government”.
Since March 2022, the management of this conflict has split the Congolese presidency between hardliners and those more inclined to dialogue with Kigali. Biselele, a former member of the RCD-Goma rebellion, is reputed to have retained close links with Rwanda. In particular, he made numerous trips there at the start of Tshisekedi’s term of office, when the latter wanted to draw closer to his neighbour. Broadcast against a backdrop of the diplomatic crisis between Kinshasa and Kigali, Biselele’s interview quickly raised eyebrows among the authorities, right up to the highest level of government.
By only putting out what is beneficial for the boss, [Foka] could only be on [their] side
Back to the ANR.
During his first interrogation on 14 January, the investigators asked him whether he recognised that this interview had “undermined the head of state” and provided “material for those taking shots at him by saying that there was a deal with Rwanda”. While he admits that he was “clumsy” and “indelicate” in what he said, Bifort did not stop short of laying part of the blame on Foka, whom he described as a “manipulator” and a journalist “recruited” by the presidency.
One of the agents told him: “Since when has this journalist been one of ours?” In his response, Before said: “It was Nicolas Kazadi who introduced him to me as such.” According to his interpretation, “by only putting out what is beneficial for the boss, [Foka] could only be on [their] side”. The finance minister did not respond to our request for comment.
While acknowledging the “seriousness” of his comments, the former adviser says he was tricked and has accused Foka of “conditioning” him. “The journalist told me that he knew about my many missions to Rwanda. He wanted to know what I was going to do there. To avoid giving him the real reasons, I lied and said what I said, which I regret,” Bifort said, concluding his first interview by firmly denying that he was a member of Rwandan intelligence. “No one will give you any proof of that,” he told the officers questioning him, adding that he had never been to Kigali for negotiations about Congolese minerals.
Foka told us he does not see how he could have been “recruited” by the Congolese presidency, given that he is currently in the middle of shooting a series of documentaries on the subject of mining, two episodes of which have already aired, and which are not particularly favourable to the authorities in power.
Bifort’s insistence on his Rwandan connections is no coincidence. During the next few hours of questioning that await Tshisekedi’s former adviser, the investigators will focus at length on his links with some of Rwanda’s most influential securocrats.
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