Corruption charges swirl around Zaire's President Mobutu

Tales of official corruption and extravagance, which have swirled around many Central African governments in recent years, have surfaced again concerning the regime of Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko.

A report has just been leaked here on sales of Zaire's mining output for the personal gain of Mobutu and his clan. It also describes freewheeling spending with funds from the country's central bank, and lavish gifts of diamonds to the wives of European and African leaders.

The 50-page report was written by a former international civil servant sent to unscramble the country's financial chaos a few years ago. The charges link a number of key Belgian officials, including two former prime ministers, to Zairian financial deals or payments.

All personalities involved have issued rebuttals or declarations on the subject, but the Belgian government has ordered a judicial investigation of the charges. Belgium also tightened controls on some aid to Zaire and announced a major debate in parliament on relations with the former colony.

The accusations come amid several other developments that together could put Mobutu to the severest test of his 17 years in the former Belgian colony's highest office. Among them: a barrage of charges of human-rights violations, torture, and kidnappings in Zaire; and formation of a new joint opposition front to Mobutu among the welter of exiles here.

The report leveling the charges was prepared by a former German official of the International Monetary Fund, Erwin Blumenthal. It includes information from two former Mobutu associates who have turned against him, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Nguza Karl-I-Bond, and Belgian journalist Pierre Davister, who for a long time was widely regarded as a Mobutu apologist.

Although the details of possible corruption and massive personal profit have captured most attention, the major portion of the report deals with Zaire's $4.1 billion international debt. On this subject, Blumenthal bluntly says:

''There is no - I repeat no - chance on the horizon for Zaire's numerous creditors to get their money back. . . . There has been and remains only one major obstacle to annihilate such prospects - the corruption of the team in power.''

He concludes that ''Mobutu and his government show no concern about the question of paying off loans and the public debt. They are counting on the generosity of their creditors and the indefinite renewal of the loans and their repayment.''

The report makes a definite link between the deterioration of the country's potentially solid economic prospects and Mobutu's growing personal wealth, estimated at $4 or $5 billion. Details are provided about the former Army sergeant's properties, including five chateaus and seven other holdings in Belgium and homes in Paris, Switzerland, Italy, Senegal, the Ivory Coast, and Chad.

The report catalogs lavish spending by and for other members of the Mobutu family, the President's personal control and use of central bank funds, and profiteering from the country's extensive diamond, copper, cobalt, and other mines. In some cases, the shipments were headed for South Africa in violation of the African boycott of that country.

There are also allegations that prominent Belgian figures were involved in large financial payoffs and transactions with Zaire. They include former Prime Ministers Edmond Leburton and Paul vanden Boeynants; the current communications minister, Herman de Croo; Foreign Ministry policy director Alfred Cahen; and university Prof. Paul Douchy.

These developments, according to many sources here, could have important implications for future ties with Zaire and President Mobutu after years of an uneasy relationship.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.