The Democratic Republic of Congo’s justice minister on Monday vowed to jail opposition leader Moise Katumbi if he returned home after leaving the country for medical treatment.
Katumbi was seen as the leading challenger to President Joseph Kabila in elections due to be held this year, but left the country in May after the government announced he would be tried for endangering state security and held him in prison.
He was sentenced to three years behind bars late last month for fraud relating to a property deal but insisted earlier in July that he planned to return to Kinshasa as soon as possible.
Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba warned that if he did so, he would be detained.
“If Mr Katumbi enters Congo, he will be taken to prison, that is the law,” Mwamba told AFP. “It is not a special rule invented to target him.”
Katumbi was an ally of Kabila for a decade but quit the ruling party in September over the president’s plans to split several provinces, including Katanga, which is the size of Spain, into four separate entities.
The 51-year-old tycoon owns the prestigious Tout Puissant Mazembe football club, three-time winner of the African Champions League.
After flying to South Africa, ostensibly for medical treatment, Katumbi subsequently settled in London, though he insists he will not withdraw from the presidential race.
Opposition parties in the country said last month they had forged an alliance to demand that Kabila quit when his term expires in December.
Kabila has been in power since the assassination of his father Laurent-Desire Kabila in 2001.