Belgium to probe Congolese minister accused of money laundering

Belgian judicial authorities are investigating possible money-laundering activities linked to ore trafficking by a minister in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), state-owned Radio-Television Belge de la Communaute Francaise (RTBF) reported from Brussels on Wednesday.

Magistrate Michel Claise in Brussels is leading an inquiry into illegal activities in which Alexis Thambwe Mwamba, the new DRC minister of planning and reconstruction, is alleged to be involved. Thambwe was appointed to his post three weeks ago. DRC President Joseph Kabila suspended his predecessor, Denis Kalume, in November 2002 along with several other ministers after they were named in a report by a UN panel of experts on the illegal exploitation of DRC resources.

RTBF reported that the public prosecutor's office in Brussels confirmed that an investigation has been opened, observations have been made and that on Tuesday a report was submitted to the public prosecutor's office. However, the public prosecutor's office has not yet decided on the next steps to be taken in this case.

The illegal trafficking is said to involve gold, diamonds, and coltan [colombite-tantalite], a rare mineral used in the manufacture of mobile phones and computers.

According to the UN report, released on 21 October 2002, the humanitarian consequences of the financially driven conflict have been horrific: in the five eastern provinces of the DRC alone, the number of excess deaths directly attributable to the Rwandan and Ugandan occupation since the outbreak of war up to September 2002 was estimated to be between three million and 3.5 million people, the panel said.