By Brian Smith
Moise Katumbi is a controversial figure in Congolese politics. To some, he is a patriot, encouraging his followers to criticize and challenge the government. To others, and as recent media reports suggest, he is a power-craving opportunist looking for wealth and influence in his native Congo and beyond.
It has long been believed that Katumbi's ultimate goal is to return to the Congo from abroad, where he remains having been convicted of financial misconduct in 2016, and run for the country's presidency. He doesn't seem to be too discreet about those ambitions - he has been spotted in foreign capitals, traveling around the world to burnish his credentials and increasing his presence on social media channels to test political messages and criticize the current government.
While he promotes an image of trust and integrity in his foreign visits and in the media, a deeper dive into his past reveals a far more complex picture. If we are to judge a person by the company they keep, as the old adage goes, Katumbi begins to resemble every other African politician he claims to abhor.
Katumbi's closest confidantes are his wife, Carine Katumbi, who also goes by Betti, and his brother, Raphael Soriano, who is also known as Katobe Katoto. That he keeps close counsel of loved ones and his family is not surprising – many leaders do. What is surprising is the questionable activity they both engage in, seemingly with not just Mr Katumbi's knowledge, but with his encouragement and support. As Katumbi plots his path back to power, his wife and brother continue to position themselves as the financial beneficiaries of his past and present political ambitions.
Soriano made much of his fortune in the mining business, providing food and supplies to the Gecamines mine operation, the largest mining site in the DRC. The Congolese government has tremendous influence over Gecamines, and if Katumbi wins the presidency, he will unparalleled sway over the site. Mining will continue to be lucrative family business -- when Katumbi was elected governor of the mineral-rich Katanga province, he reportedly divested of his interests in mining and put them in his wife's name.
In the late 1990s, Raphael Soriano was hired by the government of Zambia to represent its best interests during a nearly $100 million arms and equipment contract negotiation, which included helicopters, fighter aircraft and related ammunition. 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 an foreign bank account under the name of Katumbi's wife, Betti, to be used to finance the transaction. After payment was made but goods failed to be delivered, Zambian officials realized $20 million was siphoned off by Soriano and Betti Katumbi, of which Moise Katumbi received more than $100,000 directly. Zambia's Attorney General sued Katumbi's wife and his brother for restitution, accusing them of laundering the $20 million in a phony arms deal.
Soriano also stands to gain billions from a lucrative deal with the Angolan government, which just awarded him a contract to build nearly 600,000 homes in that country over the next twenty years.
As Katumbi angles to return to Congo and run for president, promising higher wages and economic opportunity, his wife and his brother maybe the biggest beneficiaries.