Last week, Jean-Jacques Lumumba, former banker and well-known whistleblower from the Democratic Republic of Congo, believed that he was being followed while en route to Brussels’ main train station. Yet, he stuck to his plans and took a train to return to Paris, where he lives in exile. Halfway through the journey, as he prepared to switch trains in Lille, he realized that his bag with both his laptops was gone.
Lumumba had gone to Brussels as spokesperson for a group of Congolese activists called “Dynamic Congo 2060.” During a press conference on July 24, he spoke about fighting corruption and impunity in Congo, upcoming election issues, and insecurity in the country’s east.
Minutes after his presentation, he received a phone call from a trusted Congolese security source warning him that he might be under surveillance during his trip.
On July 28, three days after Lumumba’s bag had disappeared, police summoned his tenants in Kinshasa, Congo’s capital, for interrogation. The police alleged that the house they rented, and which Lumumba owns, had been purchased with illegal funds and threatened them with eviction unless they provided documents containing personal information about their landlord.
Two days later, Lumumba’s car was found burned-out in its parking place near his home on the outskirts of Paris. He filed a police report.
Lumumba was forced into exile in 2016 after he witnessed wrongdoings while working as an executive at the Congolese subsidiary of BGFI bank and revealed a massive corruption scandal involving the family of then-President Joseph Kabila and close associates. The trove of documents he disclosed, known as the Lumumba Papers, exposed a system of entrenched corruption, misuse of public funds, illegal financing, and embezzlement.
“My wife and kids are shocked and scared,” Lumumba told Human Rights Watch by phone. Nevertheless, he remains committed to exposing and hoping to help rid Congo of corruption.
This new spate of intimidation and threats against Lumumba both in Europe and Kinshasa is of grave concern not just for Lumumba and those close to him, but to all those fighting corruption in Congo. Officials seeking to promote the rule of law in Congo should not only be investigating all allegations of corruption but also those seeking to deter whistleblowers from speaking out.