Panama Papers: Kabila twin linked to Vodacom unit

Kinshasa - Jaynet Kabila, the twin sister of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s president and a lawmaker, has an indirect stake in Vodacom Group’s operations in the country, documents show, shedding light on the wealth the opposition says has been accumulated by the first family.

Kabila owns half of Keratsu Holding, a company with a 9.6% indirect stake in Vodacom Congo, according to incorporation documents dated December 2011 and obtained by Bloomberg from the companies registry of the South Pacific state of Niue. Two people with knowledge of Vodacom Congo confirmed her shareholding, declining to be identified because her involvement isn’t public knowledge.

Kabila’s indirect stake in the country’s largest mobile-phone operator provides a clue of the network of economic interests that opposition politicians say the presidential family has accumulated since her father seized power in 1997. President Joseph Kabila, who succeeded their father after his assassination in 2001, is barred by the constitution from running for a third term. Opposition leaders say he is delaying elections scheduled for November to hold on to power.

“Members of Kabila’s family have accumulated huge wealth including stakes in companies in offshore tax havens,” opposition leader and lawmaker Martin Fayulu said by phone from Kinshasa, the capital. “We need an urgent inquiry and we need to demand the repatriation of these monies to Congo.”

Panama Papers

Jaynet Kabila wasn’t available at her office in Kinshasa when Bloomberg sought comment during business hours. Congolese government spokesperson Lambert Mende said the issue was a private matter unrelated to the government, when asked for comment.

Steve Shepperson-Smith, a spokesperson for Vodafone, which owns 65% of Vodacom Group, didn’t respond to phone and e-mail messages requesting comment. Vodacom Congo Chief Executive Officer Murielle Lorilloux said by phone the company would analyse the information at a group level before responding.

“We need to study the content of the Panama Papers and are giving this our full attention,” Byron Kennedy, a spokesperson for Vodacom, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

'Rare glimpse'

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists on April 3 separately published two documents leaked from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, identifying Kabila as a director of Keratsu. One is a copy of e-mails from 2001 and the other is an undated e-mail text file that appears to be written after 2013. Neither could be independently verified by Bloomberg.

“Jaynet Kabila’s stake in Vodacom offers a rare glimpse into what we assume is a large and diverse array of assets owned by the president’s family,” Jason Stearns, a senior fellow at the New York University-based Center on International Cooperation peace and security think tank, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Stearns is the author of a book on Congo titled “ Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa.”

The ICIJ said it had been leaked 11.5 million records outlining the creation of more than 200,000 offshore shell companies related to Mossack Fonseca. The cache includes offshore companies linked to 12 current and former world leaders, as well as hidden financial dealings by 128 more politicians and public officials, according to the ICIJ.

'Illegal act'

In written comments to the ICIJ, Mossack Fonseca said it “does not foster or promote illegal acts” and that the group’s allegations that it provides shareholders with structures “supposedly designed to hide the identity of the real owners are completely unsupported and false.” Mossack Fonseca co-founder Jurgen Mossack said in an interview on Monday the firm had been hacked and that its clients had been notified.

Using shell companies can be, and often is, legal and legitimate.

Keratsu holds its Vodacom Congo stake through its 19.6% indirect holding in Congolese Wireless Network, according to company documents. CWN owns 49% of Vodacom Congo. Keratsu’s holding amounts to an indirect 4.8% stake in Vodacom Congo for Kabila. Vodacom Congo was created less than six months after Keratsu’s incorporation in Niue in June 2001.

South Africa-based Vodacom Group owns 51% of Vodacom Congo. The unit’s subscriber numbers rose 14% to 11.9 million in the year through June, 2015.

Right to work

When Keratsu co-director Feruzi Kalume Nyembwe was asked by phone on Monday about Kabila’s stake in Keratsu, he responded:

“Each person has the right to set up a company and to work. If not, we would have to leave the large multinationals to have the companies in Congo. It would only be them and that would be unacceptable.” Kalume Nyembwe declined to confirm whether Kabila was a Keratsu shareholder.

Jaynet Kabila was elected to parliament in 2011. She also heads the foundation of her late father, Laurent. The Keratsu incorporation documents don’t use the name she uses in public. They refer to her as J. Ursula Kyungu, a name she uses in other company records. In her Lubakat culture, first-born twins are sometimes called Kyungu, while second-born twins are called Kabange, which is her brother’s third name. Her date of birth in the documents matches her brother’s.

Vodacom Chairman Peter Moyo, in a November interview with Bloomberg, said he only knew that CWN and its subsidiaries were shareholders, not which individuals had stakes in those companies. “CWN has got quite a lot of other shareholders,” Moyo said.

“It’s got some American shareholders, it’s got some Congolese shareholders.”

Asked directly whether Jaynet Kabila was a shareholder, he responded: “Our shareholders are CWN and Vodacom International.” Moyo didn’t respond to a call and a text message on Monday.

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