Famous arms smuggler features in DRC coup plot case
A year after the world’s most prolific arms smuggler, Viktor Bout, was sentenced to 25 years in jail, his weapons are still available to mercenaries and warlords in Africa, the North Gauteng High Court has heard.
During a bail application for 20 Congolese men charged with plotting to overthrow the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), State Prosecutor Shaun Abrahams revealed that they told undercover Hawks officers that they needed funds to buy arms that belonged to Bout.
Bout’s illegal arms smuggling to violent regimes and dictators inspired the 2005 Hollywood blockbuster Lord of War.
Bout, a Russian, was sentenced in a US court in April last year for offering to sell weapons to undercover US agents.
It also emerged today that one of the main characters in the coup plot, one DRC General Yakatumba, “with experience in the military and politics” and who is well known outside the DRC, was still at large.
The state, which has spent the entire morning reading an affidavit from the investigating officer, Lieutenant Colonel Noel Zeeman, revealed that the Hawks were on to the plot to kill DRC president Joseph Kabila and members of his cabinet from day one.
In his affidavit, Zeeman said two undercover police operatives, posing as disgruntled members of the SA National Defence Force, who were willing to fund the operation and provide training to the accused, made contact with one of the accused after receiving “credible” information that Congolese citizens were recruiting people to train for a coup in the DRC.
The officers, who cannot be named to protect their identities, managed to extract vast amounts of information from the accused, including that the rebel group had between 7 000 and 9 000 members back in the DRC and had a long list of arms required for the operation.
The leader of the rebel group, Etienne Kabila, claims to be the real son of former DRC president Laurent Kabila and that Joseph, who succeeded his father is an “imposter”.
In his affidavit, Zeeman stated that the plotters were adamant during various meetings the undercover police officers held with them that the only way to unseat Joseph Kabila and his cabinet was through waging an “all-out war” against the government.
Abrahams read into the court record how the amateurish plot was concocted and how it would be executed.
The accused, said Abrahams, had also promised to pay back those who helped them with mining concessions from the mineral-rich country.
The plan involved seizing the mineral-rich region of Bukavu first, which is the economic heartland of the DRC and then taking over mines in Goma to finance the operation.
On the shopping list of weapons the accused allegedly asked the undercover police officers for were: 50 satellite phones, 200 Motorola radios, 5 000 AK 47s, 1 000 grenades, various machine guns, 20 land missiles, 20 air missiles and 100 revolvers.
The men belong to the Union for National Renewal, one of a number of rebel groups in the DRC operating from the bushes.
The Hawks recorded and photographed all the meetings held with the accused including surveillance of more than four meetings held at various restaurants around Gauteng.
Abrahams also read a document, according to which the accused intended to change the constitution, hold general elections, restructure the military, improve foreign investment and stabilise the Great Lakes region.
After numerous meetings and gaining the trust and confidence of the main players in the plot, undercover police officers convinced the accused that they would train the men in a bush camp in Modimolle, Limpopo, where they were eventually arrested.
The state is opposing bail. The hearing continues.