Amid threats over new sanctions and the strife over stalled presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo – elections that President Joseph Kabila’s regime says the country can’t afford – comes a curious report on two close Kabila associates and their yacht.
Leading French outlet Le Monde published on Tuesday an investigative report into the owners of the Enigma XK, a 71-meter luxury yacht every bit as opulent as its €25 million renovation might suggest. Rates for the charter yacht, which is flagged in the Marshall Islands and docked in Cape Town, South Africa, begin at €275,000 per week.
It’s not the helipad and other amenities that Le Monde is interested in, though: It’s the Enigma XK owners’ relationship with Kabila, whose own family holdings in diamonds, copper, agricultural land, banks and more are extensive even as DR Congo society deteriorates around him.
A 2016 investigation into Kabila’s finances by Bloomberg made no pretense of avoiding the question: Is Kabila’s refusal to step down tied to his own mine and other holdings, his family’s extensive assets and those of his friends? The Le Monde piece takes that a step further, and anticipates the possibility that aggressive sanctions further imposed by the United States, European Union or United Nations against those maneuvering to keep Kabila in power might well target the president and his affluent network.
Le Monde, in partnership with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the PPLAAF, an African whistleblower protection program, worked to pull back the veil on André Wan and Marc Piedbœuf – two Kabila business associates traced to the ownership of the yacht through links connecting them to business entities. Among them was MW Afritec SA, the yacht’s registered owner.
Kabila dealings with Enigma XK owners
The Congolese company confirmed ownership of the Enigma XK in a response written Wednesday, following publication of the Le Monde piece. Funding for the vessel came from Virginie Mambimbi, Wan’s mother, who along with her husband Alain built up the family’s MW Afritec, the company said; the firm works on port, road and other construction projects, some funded by World Bank and the EU. Additional funds for the Enigma XK restoration came from Piedbœuf and from MW Afritec dividends.
“Marc Piedbœuf and Alain Wan are childhood friends and studied together in Kinshasa,” the press release said, in an attempt to detail the relationships among the owners, their families and businesses.
Among them is Grands Elevages du Bas-Congo (GEL), a firm sold to Kabila under the control of Ferme Espoir. The president owns the latter agribusiness, which is managed by Piedbœuf. That role, according to MW Afritec, was assumed after he completed the successful sale of all GEL shares to Kabila’s firm.
To be clear, the Enigma XK investigation – launched by documents a whistleblower provided to PPLAAF – found no direct ownership of the yacht by Kabila himself. In a statement to Le Monde, the company unequivocally said that Kabila has no connection with the boat. But the Enigma XK is quickly becoming a new symbol of the president’s lucrative but complicated relationships, and it raises questions about how valuable any future sanctions lodged against Kabila associates might be in pressuring the DR Congo to schedule the delayed elections that government officials say they’re still just not prepared to hold.
Will investigations and sanctions force new elections?
Kabila has backed away from the December 2016 election agreement, negotiated with the assistance of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) to create a power-sharing structure with the Rassemblement coalition of political opposition parties and move toward elections in one year. In early June, Kabila further distanced himself from the commitment during an interview with German media outlet Der Spiegel.
“I didn’t promise anything,” he said, while refusing to rule out a third term for himself and insisting the Congolese are not ready for elections. That position was echoed by Corneille Nangaa, the head of Congo’s electoral commission, during an interview last week in which he said it was unlikely that it will be logistically possible to hold elections before 2018. In the meantime, the violence in DR Congo, notably in the Kasais, has escalated beyond Kinshasa’s electorally driven clashes.
Despite pressure from the international community – and previous U.S. and EU sanctions against Kabila associates – the CENCO deal was unraveling even before the February 2017 death of Etienne Tshisekedi, the 84-year old head of the main Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) opposition party. Kabila leveraged that leadership void to appoint Bruno Tshibala as prime minister, despite violating the CENCO agreement to do so, and hasn’t looked back at the weakened opposition.
He also has effectively neutralized exiled opposition leader Moïse Katumbi, who fled to Brussels in May 2016 and was sentenced to fines and 36 months in jail in absentia, ostensibly for selling illegal property, following his announcement to seek the presidency himself. Katumbi hoped to return to DR Congo with the body of Tshisekedi, who died in Brussels, but that arrangement hasn’t happened either. He still believes he’s the best leader for the Congolese, and opinion polls show that many voters agree.
Katumbi told Financial Times last week that Kabila doesn’t have the right to change the constitution and “he’s going to kill the country.” It’s that same impulse that led the United States to warn of sanctions to come, and urge the United Nations Security Council to consider the same. Reuters reports that the International Monetary Fund also has warned that “a credible path toward political stability” will likely be a condition for any assistance. It’s not the first time the IMF has had run-ins with Kabila, as a lack of transparency led the IMF to cut off an estimated USD$500 million in loans with the country in 2012.
In that case, the government declined to provide 2011 documents for a mining company chaired by one of Kabila’s sisters with the family holding a 10 percent stake. It’s one of many examples in the 2016 Bloomberg investigation that point to a network of family members and associates that helps to keep Kabila wealthy, and keep him in power – and who might be deterred from doing so if more sanctions were applied to pressure for elections. If the Enigma XK yacht saga is any indication, there won’t be any shortage of targets to investigate.
Image: Joseph Kabila