By Robson Sharuko in CAIRO, Egypt
MOISE KATUMBI, the Congolese multi-millionaire businessman and politician, has come out guns blazing saying allegations he bribed Zimbabwe goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze, to influence the outcome of the AFCON Group A match last Sunday, are false, ridiculous and a work of fiction created by a Madagascan newspaper.
He has engaged one of Belgium’s largest law firms, Altius, to try and clear his name and has provided CAF with evidence, including a copy of his passport, to show that he wasn’t in Egypt — as alleged by Madagascar newspaper La Gazette de la Grande — at the time he is alleged to have orchestrated the shady deal.
The businessman said while he attended the 2019 AFCON opening ceremony, at the invitation of CAF and went on to watch the match between the DRC and Uganda, he flew back to Belgium on the very day the Congolese lost to the Cranes 0-2, a day after the tournament started.
Katumbi said his reaction was provoked by a flood of stories, which were sourced from the first article published by La Gazette de la Grande, which have been appearing on various news outlets across the continent and challenged CAF, through their secretary-general Hajji Mouad, to provide a statement that clears his name.
He also revealed he will be taking legal action against La Gazette de la Grande, and all the media outlets that appeared to suggest he was involved in any shady dealing during the 2019 AFCON finals, and said journalists who were feeding off the frenzy, without backing their articles with evidence, were also bringing the reputation of AFCON into disrepute.
“Journalists who invent grotesque #CAN2019 match corruption cases discredit their profession,’’ he tweeted. “Sad, I was not in Egypt when they ‘saw me the day before the match.’ I am a sports lover who always defends merit & fairness!’’
His lawyers said during his time here, for the opening ceremony and the opening match between the Congolese and the Ugandans, Katumbi didn’t even have any interaction with players or officials from his national team and neither did he, at any stage, visit them at their team hotel. The Congolese were sharing the same hotel with the Warriors.
Although Chipezeze had a shocker of a performance in the match, which the Congolese won 4-0, his teammates have rallied around him and on Thursday challenged those who were questioning his integrity, and by extension their integrity, to provide irrefutable evidence which could be gathered from CCTV footage at their Cairo hotel showing that, indeed, something fishy happened on this tour of duty.
The initial report claimed Katumbi had approached the goalkeeper at the hotel on the eve of the match.
The lawyers said while La Gazette de la Grande gave a hint, in their initial report, that there could be some inaccuracies in their article by concluding that “for now, let’s cross our arms and wait for the outcome of the CAF emergency investigation (and) an emergency investigation, if it has taken place, hopefully, will lead to good news for the Barea and not ‘fake news’ for Madagascar,’’ the subsequent flood of articles across the continent didn’t leave that element of doubt.
The “emergency committee meeting’’ which the Madagascar newspaper alleged was being conducted by CAF, to deal with the issue, was never held and the continent’s football governing authorities never launched an investigation related to the issue and reports that the DRC were set to be thrown out of the tournament have since proved to be false.
DRC will take on Madagascar in a Round of 16 match in Alexandria tomorrow and CAF unveiled their training programme on Thursday and also released a digital promotion of the match in yet another demonstration that they were not investigating the Congolese.
“On July 3, 2019, an article was published by the Malagasy newspaper La Gazette de la Grande entitled ‘CAN 2019: High risk of disqualification for the Barea’s opponents,’’’ the Belgian lawyers representing Katumbi said in their letter to the CAF secretary-general.
“In view of the content of this article, and as a preliminary point, it is clear that this is a totally biased fictionalised narrative and not a journalistic work. Indeed, the article makes serious accusations against Mr Katumbi while systematically employing the conditional (that is to say without any evidence) while the Malagasy journalist seems mainly to hope that his nation can play – following groundless accusations – Zimbabwe rather than the DRC in the eighth final (see even be directly qualified for the next stage).
“The aforementioned allegations were then taken up throughout the continental Press — which no longer bothered to use the conditional — without any reaction from the CAF.
“Mr Katumbi formally denounces these false accusations, Mr Katumbi would also like to point out that at the time of the alleged facts, he had already left Egypt and was, therefore, physically unable to approach any player. His passport confirms it, a copy of it is attached.
“Mr Katumbi arrived in Egypt the day before the opening match as (a) guest (during this match) of the CAF, both as a member of the CAN Organising Committee and president of TP Mazembe, (one of the top five African clubs.
“Just after the opening match, Mr Katumbi decided to attend the DRC’s first match against Uganda. Immediately, after this match, Monsieru Katumbi left Egypt to return to Brussels. Even with the DRC players, Mr Katumbi did not have any contact.
“Such a presentation once again demonstrates the absurd and untruthful nature of the allegations. Such accusations, against a man whose integrity has always been praised on the continent, is defamatory and seriously undermines the honour and reputation of Mr. Katumbi.’’
The Belgian lawyers then threw a direct challenge to CAF. “Therefore, my client requires CAF to publicly confirm that no internal investigation has been opened against Mr Katumbi,’’ Gregory Ernes, a Belgian lawyer, wrote.
“In addition, Mr Katumbi requires that CAF act promptly to punish the affiliates, or other members, behind this defamation. Here, my client wants an investigation to be done in a completely transparent way.
“Finally, I inform you that criminal actions for defamation will be filed against anyone who contributed to the dissemination of this false information. Certainly, the journalists, as well as the editions who peddled these lies, will be quoted before the competent Courts and Tribunals with the aim of washing the honour and the unfailing reputation of my client.
“In this regard, a copy of this letter is already addressed to the Malagasy newspaper.’’
Altius describe themselves “as one of the largest Belgian independent law firms, consisting of approximatively 65 lawyers, established in Brussels, Antwerp, and Louvain-la-Neuve, we advise Belgian and international companies on the legal aspects of their transactions and disputes.
“We help our clients navigate through often-complex legislation and regulatory environments and provide clear solutions to a wide range of legal issues.’’ The Herald