By Brian Smith
Kleptocracy is a problem that plagues developing nations (in fairness, the first world is not immune either). Governments' interests are supposed to lie in the betterment of their people, not its leaders. When officials place their individual gain over the collective good, fraudulent priorities and illicit behavior drive government's action. This results in poor services for a nation's citizens. Scarce dollars available for infrastructure projects such as sewage and irrigation systems, roads maintenance, school construction and other public works are delayed or diverted to line leaders' own pockets.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the self-exiled kleptocrat and presidential aspirant Moisé Katumbi knows this all too well. As the Governor the mineral-rich Katanga Province, Katumbi gained great material wealth while he engaged in corrupt schemes to avoid taxes, export duties that would help develop the country he pretends to love. But in Katumbi's mind, DRC has always been for sale. More than 40 years ago, the bloody Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko hand-picked the Katumbi family to be part of the ruling class. In his quest to maintain power, Mobutu worked to control strategic assets and industries—and the Katumbi family was in the fisheries and shipping business. After all, food and logistics are both very important everywhere, but more so in the developing world. From there, Moisé Katumbi spent years being educated around the world—learning about $5,000 suits and private jets. Rather than live the life of a patriot and invest in civil society, Moisé Katumbi has chosen the path of self-enrichment at every opportunity. It's no wonder Katumbi believes the DRC is for sale.
Profiting off of government connections runs in the Katumbi family. Raphael Soriano, Moise Katumbi's brother, was hired by the government of Zambia to represent the country during a $100 million arms and equipment contract negotiation. Soriano was given wide discretion by the Zambian government to secure the deal, and arranged a lucrative fee for himself as the middleman. Funds were deposited into a foreign bank account that belonged to Katumbi's wife, Betti. After payment was made but goods failed to be delivered, Zambian officials realized $20 million was siphoned off by Soriano. Zambia's Attorney General sued Katumbi's wife and his half-brother for restitution, accusing them of laundering the $20 million in a phony arms deal.
Despite having scammed Zambia already, Soriano and Katumbi were recently involved in another corrupt arms deal with Zambia. Despite its precarious fiscal condition, Zambian President Edgar Lungu put off urgent government projects to quickly find the money for the deal.
Soriano also stands to gain billions from a lucrative deal with the Angolan government which just awarded him a budget of $60 billion to build nearly 600,000 homes.
Last year Katumbi was fined $6 million by a Congolese court for profiting off of a questionable real estate deal. As Katumbi angles to return to the Congo and run for president, perhaps his promise of higher wages and economic opportunity is for himself and his family, not the Congolese people.