Belgian businessman implicated in DR Congo coup plot

Belgian businessman implicated in DR Congo coup plot
A Belgian businessman is accused of colluding with exiled General Numbi (pictured). Credit: Belga

Thierry Lahanisky, a Belgian businessman currently in pre-trial detention in Saint-Gilles Prison on charges of facilitating and exporting arms to countries under embargo, has again returned to the spotlight over his suspected involvement in a coup plot in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Le Soir reports.

As previously reported, Lahanisky was arrested in September 2022 for allegedly transporting military equipment and weapons to countries in Africa and the Middle East under embargo. In the DRC, he maintained close contact with general John Numbi, former inspector general of the police under President Joseph Kabila.

According to Lahanisky’s arrest records, the Belgian police note his involvement in a “project linked to a potential coup d’état organised by the said general, close to the Kabila camp, in Katanga.”

The Belgian’s lawyer does not deny his involvement in the internal politics of the DRC, but states that his involvement was unrelated to “arming” rebels in the region, but instead “securing a popular initiative referendum on the independence of Katanga.”

The referendum project, allegedly put forward by Lahanisky was not known before to the Belgian state. One of the key focusess of the case is Belgian national's close ties to the Katangese General Numbi, who reportedly trusted Lahanisky and treasured his links to Belgium’s intelligence services.

During the Congo crisis in the 1960s, an attempt by the Katanga region, alongside South Kasai, to become independent from the newly-established DRC was crushed, although secessionism in the region is still present today.

Shadowy connections

General Numbi is a well-known figure within the DRC as a senior police and military official, having been inspector general of both institutions in Kinshasa. He was replaced in 2020, after which he fled the country in 2021 and was officially branded a deserter.

With current president Félix Tshisekedi’s rise to power, the general, who was close to the previous leader, was threatened with arrest and fled the country to Zambia or Zimbabwe. The general is suspected to be a member of a Katangese separatist group, the Union of Federalists and Independent Republicans (UFERI).

In the 1990s, he organised the expulsion of 300,000 ethnic Kasaians living in Katanga and was also implicated in the murder of a human rights activist in 2010. The general is also accused of having given direct support to Katanga militias and boosting the prospect of the province's secession.

Lahanisky kept close ties with the controversial general and allegedly acted as a “correspondent” to Belgium’s intelligence services while in Africa. The Belgian’s company, Skytech, which is intended to provide logistics to humanitarian missions in the region, was said to have transported weapons across Africa. Belgium’s intelligence service reportedly kept tabs on his activities in a bid to gain information about potential deals in the region.

It is also known that the businessman was, in one way or another, "remunerated" for his collaboration with the Belgian services.

The arms broker fell quickly from grace at the start of the war in Ukraine. Some of the equipment that Lahanisky was transporting across the world, including MI-26 helicopters, were said to have come from Russia, now under heavy international sanctions.

In February 2022, following the bankruptcy of his company, Lahanisky lost his relevant brokerage licences to operate in Belgium, but he continued to work unabated. Despite this, he was not detained, and continue to cooperate with intelligence services.

Close relations to the Belgian State

Just one month later, in April 2022, he was reportedly entrusted by Belgium’s military intelligence with a USB-stick intended for General Numbi containing a precise military map of Katanga, including mining and military sites. Exiled Numbi has been known to attempt to destabilise the copper rich region.

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In September 2022, Lahanisky was finally arrested while attempting to re-establish his company, with Belgian authorities suspecting him of having attempted to transfer weapons to countries under embargo, and now his involvement in a planned coup d’état in Katanga.

Obviously, the details of Lahanisky’s activities in Africa, and his close cooperation with Belgium’s military intelligence services, has caused a significant stir in the intelligence community. Belgium’s R Committee, the oversight board for the country’s intelligence service, has conducted searches and seized thousands of documents relating to the rogue arms broker in possession of Belgium’s security services.

The case is now being investigated by a Brussels investigating judge, but more questions remain. The case certainly shines a dubious light on Belgium’s activities in Africa, and where its allegiances lie.

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