Posted on Apr 03, 2021
On March 18th, Belarussian businessman Alexander Zingman, owner of AFTRADE, a company that deals with the trading of agricultural and mining equipment, arrived at Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DCR) in the company of his colleagues, fellow Belarusian Oleg Vodchits, and Italian businessman Paolo Persico.
The men were detained, along with Moisi Kapende, a major farmer in Lubumbashi on whose invitation they had travelled to the country.
The men found themselves accused of being arms dealers, and of helping to organise a coup.
After 12 days in captivity they were released without charge. EUToday had the chance to speak with Zingman and Persico after their ordeal.
The experience was like a “horror movie, but in real life. 1001 questions: who we met, where we met, what we talked about,” Zingman said.
Although there seemed to be confusion on the ground when the men arrived, it was clear that this incident had been well planned, and orchestrated in advance.
Although no charges were levelled at him, Zingman, who is also honorary consul for Zimbabwe, has stated that the DRC government was made to believe he was an arms dealer planning to conduct a coup against DRC President Felix Tshisekedi.
Whilst there appear to be no historic allegations against Zingman of arms-dealing, it was notable that multiple postings of articles levelling such charges appeared on March 23rd, mainly in African owned media.
“We had to prove, while we were behind bars, that we were not arms dealers,” Zingman said.
The conditions under which they were held were reportedly “dire”, with Persico showing strong symptoms of Malaria. Despite his condition, it took 12 hours before he was able to see a doctor; his symptoms lasted for five days.
The men emphasised however that at no time was there any threat of violence against them.
Despite 12 days of detention, and the attentions of no less than four DRC security agencies, no charges were brought.
The men were woken in the early hours of March 30th, and quickly and quietly put on a flight to Zimbabwe.
Belarus is well known for its mechanical engineering, a legacy of the Soviet era. The country produces machine tools, tractors, trucks, earthmovers, all of the type needed in Africa’s challenging environment: robust, reliable, easy to maintain, and affordable, as well as fertilisers and other agricultural products.
Although trade between the two countries is relatively low, it has been steadily growing over the last two decades, and given the scale of Moisi Kapende’s farming activities, the men had been optimistic in advance of their visit.
Despite their ordeal, Zingman and Persico were in good spirits when we met via Zoom, and clearly relieved it was over. However, Zingman stated that after their recent experience the businessmen were “taking a break”, and “considering” whether they would be doing business with the DRC in the future.
As for the source of the arms dealing allegations? Zingman speculated that somebody may have had "professional reasons" for sabotaging his visit.
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