Moise Katumbi, the multi-millionaire former governor and prominent opposition leader, attends a funeral mass in honor of legendary Congolese singer Papa Wemba, born Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba, in Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, May 4, 2016. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe(reuters_tickers)
By Kenny Katombe
LUBUMBASHI, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo opposition presidential candidate Moise Katumbi has been summoned to appear before a prosecutor on Monday to respond to accusations that he hired foreign mercenaries, his lawyer said on Saturday.
Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba ordered the national prosecutor general on Wednesday to investigate Katumbi's alleged use of mercenaries, including several retired American soldiers.
Hours later, Katumbi declared himself a candidate for president in an election scheduled for November.
Katumbi's lawyer, King Kasongo Mushilanama, told Reuters that his client had received a summons on Saturday to appear in the office of the prosecutor general of Congo's second city of Lubumbashi on Monday to respond to the government's charges.
Katumbi will comply with the summons, he added.
Katumbi has denied the charges and accused the government of resorting to smear tactics. The U.S. Embassy in the capital Kinshasa also said that it believed the accusations were false.
Tensions are high ahead of the election in part because President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, has not declared whether he plans to step down this year, as required by the constitution.
The poll looks likely to be postponed as the government cites budgetary and logistical obstacles to holding it on time. Critics say Kabila is deliberately delaying the vote in order to remain in power after his mandate ends.
Kabila has not commented publicly on his intentions. He has instead called for a national dialogue to clear the way for elections to take place.
Kasongo also said that Katumbi's farm outside of Lubumbashi was searched on Saturday by elite Republican Guard troops, who are responsible for guarding the president and securing strategic installations.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende said he could not confirm the search, as it is a judicial matter, but added that Congolese law permits the use of the Republican Guard in such situations.
The prosecutor general in Lubumbashi was not immediately available for comment.
Katumbi governed Katanga, Congo's southeastern copper-mining heartland, from 2007 until last September when he quit Kabila's ruling party, accusing it of plotting to keep the president in power beyond a two-term limit.
Dozens of people were killed in protests in January 2015 over alleged efforts by Kabila to extend his stay in power. Since then, authorities have arrested dozens of Kabila's critics on what the United Nations and human rights groups say are trumped-up charges.
(Additional reporting and writing by Aaron Ross in Kinshasa; Editing by Joe Bavier and Digby Lidstone)