Christian Mounzeo, a leading campaigner against corruption in Congo Brazzaville and member of the Board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) was arrested yesterday and accused of defaming the country’s President. The arrest is the latest move in a campaign of judicial harassment against activists denouncing the looting of public money in Congo, sub-Saharan Africa’s fifth largest oil producer.
Christian Mounzeo was arbitrarily detained in Brazzaville on his return from Europe. His lawyer was denied access, but Mounzeo was reportedly accused of defaming the President of the Republic while abroad. As no formal charges have been made, his arrest and interrogation constitute violations of Congolese law. He was transferred this morning to the oil town of Pointe Noire, where he was due to stand trial on trumped-up charges of misappropriating funds from a non-governmental organisation.
Mounzeo had already been illegally detained for over two weeks in April, along with a fellow activist, Brice Mackosso. Both men have spoken out against the misuse of Congo’s oil revenues in their role as coordinators of the Congolese branch of PWYP, an international campaign calling for more transparent management of natural resource revenues in developing countries.1 The two activists are now on trial for ‘forgery’, despite the fact that their international funders have categorically denied any mismanagement, and the pre-trial investigation dropped a charge of misappropriation for lack of evidence.
The case has been characterised throughout by serious and systematic violations of due process, and blatant political interference.2 Most recently, the Public Prosecutor - who was formally suspended in August, yet continues to lead the prosecution - appealed for the charges of misappropriation to be reinstated, outside the timeframe allowed under Congolese law. At today’s hearing, the Prosecution admitted that the order to bring the two men to court under police escort was illegal.
Christian Mounzeo is a member of the International Board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an international framework for the disclosure of payments by companies for access to natural resources and receipts by governments, with civil society oversight over public revenues as a key criterion.3 Only recently, in a speech at the EITI conference in Oslo, Mounzeo denounced the continuing scandalous management of public funds in Congo, which earns over US$2.5 billion per year from oil yet remains heavily indebted, with over 70% of its population living on less than US$1 a day.4
According to International PWYP Coordinator Henry Parham ‘the continued intimidation of Christian Mounzeo is clearly against the spirit and the letter of the EITI. Candidate countries must ensure that civil society groups are free to participate without coercion. Congo Brazzaville should be removed from the list of EITI countries’. PWYP is also appealing to the international community, including those governments and other bodies supporting EITI, to denounce the arbitrary detention of Christian Mounzeo and to urge the Congolese authorities to drop all charges against the two activists.
Congo has published some information on its revenues and was recently granted debt relief in return for reforming its opaque management of oil wealth, including implementing EITI. However, court evidence has revealed that the national oil company is selling state oil under market price through shell companies controlled by top officials, with no clarity over where the profits end up.5 Lack of progress on EITI and other transparency reforms has seriously undermined the authorities’ credibility. In October an IMF mission concluded that Congo’s IMF programme was ‘off-track’ due to large spending overruns on the budget and a failure to channel funds to poverty reduction.6
For further information, please contact:
Henry Parham, International Coordinator, PWYP Coalition: +44 (0) 77 6026 8959
Grégoire Niaudet Secours Catholique, French PWYP Coalition (Paris): +33 (0)1 45 49 75 68 / +33 (0)6 16 93 20 15 or Michel Roy (currently in Congo) +33 (0) 607 993 460.
Sarah Wykes, Global Witness (London) +44 207 561 63 62 / +44 7703 108 449
Defence lawyers : Maître William Bourdon (Paris) : +33 (0)608 455 546; Maître Laurent Ngombi (Congo): + 242 520 1781
1. See www.publishwhatyoupay.org.
2. See the PWYP Coalition press releases Top Transparency Campaigners Arrested in the Republic of Congo, 10 April 2006 (http://www.publishwhatyoupay.org/english/pr/pwyp_100406.doc); Show trial of anti-corruption activists opens in Congo-Brazzaville, 15 June 2006, http://www.publishwhatyoupay.org/english/pr/pwyp_150606.doc; Ongoing intimidation of anti-corruption activists in Congo-Brazzaville, 10 August 2006, http://www.publishwhatyoupay.org/english/doc/releases/pwyp_congo_100806.doc
3. See www.eitransparency.org
4. See http://www.eitioslo.no/Speeches/Munzeo.htm
5. See Global Witness The Riddle of the Sphynx: where has Congo’s oil money gone?, December 2005, http://www.globalwitness.org/reports/index.php?section=oil
6. See ‘Statement by an IMF Staff Mission to the Republic of Congo’, Press Release No. 06/229, October 25 2006; http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pr/2006/pr06229.htm
Press Release / Nov. 14, 2006