DRC overturns sentence for exiled opposition leader Moise Katumbi

Opposition figure Moise Katumbi (R) arrives at the courthouse in Lubumbashi on May 13, 2016. Police in DR Congo fired tear gas today to break up a demonstration by several thousand supporters of powerful opposition figure Moise Katumbi as they protested against charges he hired foreign mercenaries. The protesters were gathered outside the courthouse in the second city of Lubumbashi where Katumbi, the leading rival of President Joseph Kabila, was due to face a hearing over the controversial allegations. / AFP / FISTON MAHAMBA (Photo credit should read FISTON MAHAMBA/AFP/Getty Images)

A Democratic Republic of Congo court has scrapped a three-year jail term against opposition leader Moise Katumbi, enabling him to return home from self-imposed exile in Belgium.

According to his lawyer Joseph Mukendi, the decision by the Court of Cassation overturns a sentence for alleged property fraud, opening the way for his return.

One of the DRC’s political heavyweights, Katumbi, 54, left the country in 2016 after falling out with then president, Joseph Kabila.

the former governor of the DRC’s copper-mining Katanga region, was sentenced in absentia to three years in prison, shortly after defecting from Kabila’s ruling party and announcing he would run for president later that year.

Kabila stood down in January after 18 years in power in which he stayed two years beyond his constitutional maximum term in office.

He handed on to opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi in the country’s first peaceful political transition since independence from Belgium in 1960.

Katumbi, a wealthy businessman born to a Greek businessman father and a Congolese mother, tried to return last August to file his bid for the December presidential elections.

But he was prevented at the Zambian border from crossing into the DRC. Candidates have to be physically in DR Congo to submit their election application.

Katumbi and fellow opposition heavyweight Jean-Pierre Bemba, who was also barred from running, backed opposition candidate Martin Fayulu.

Fayulu came in a close second to Tshisekedi, according to results that Fayulu lashed as a stitch-up.

Katumbi has his power base in the mining province of Katanga, in the southeast of the vast country, where he was previously governor.

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