ABIDJAN, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Switzerland imposed sanctions including asset freezes and travel bans on 14 allies of Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Joseph Kabila on Wednesday amid a worsening political crisis linked to his refusal to step down.
Congolese security forces have killed dozens of protesters in violent crackdowns on a series of demonstrations organised in opposition to Kabila’s decision to remain in power despite the end of his elected mandate in December 2016.
Switzerland has long held a reputation as a favoured international destination for stashing ill-gotten wealth, owing to its banking privacy laws. But in recent years, in the face of international pressure, it has sought to demonstrate greater transparency, including increased cooperation with other nations’ tax authorites.
The sanctions list published by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs largely mirrors one already enforced by the European Union. The United States has also imposed sanctions on senior Congolese officials over the past two years.
Regime figures targeted by the Swiss measure include former interior ministers Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari and Evariste Boshab, ex-national police commissioner John Numbi and Kalev Mutond, the head of the National Intelligence Agency.
Information Minister Lambert Mende, who serves as Congo’s government spokesman and is also on the sanctions list, was not immediately available to comment on the Swiss announcement.
In power since 2001, Kabila struck a deal in December 2016 with the main opposition bloc to stay on after his mandate expired on the condition elections were held by the end of 2017.
Government authorities missed that deadline and the vote is now scheduled for this December. However, election officials have hinted that polls may not even be possible then because of financial and logistical constraints.
As the political crisis has dragged on Congo has experienced a spike in violence by armed groups, particularly in the restive east, which many fear could plunge the country back into the kind of conflict in which millions died at the turn of the century. (Reporting by Aaron Ross; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by David Goodman)