* Katanga Governor Moise Katumbi to step down next year
* Wants to boost Congolese participation in mining boom
* Insists no conflicts of interest
By Katrina Manson
LUBUMBASHI, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nov 24 (Reuters) -
Moise Katumbi, one of Congo's most powerful men and political
leader of its richest province, is handling two black cowboy
hats as he sits in his office in the country's copper heartland.
"People say I am bullet-proof, even my hat, but feel this,"
says the 45-year-old governor, a lean and muscled millionaire,
of his sartorial trademark, fingering first a floppy leather hat
and then a felt one.
"This is a fake story," he says of the local yarn, a phrase
he repeats often throughout four separate interviews in which he
addressed accusations of graft, theft, tax evasion and undue
influence on the nation's massive mining sector.
The top politician in Katanga, home to 55 percent of the
world's cobalt production and five percent of copper, Katumbi's
political career took off when elected local deputy in 2006 with
the highest score recorded in a Congolese parliamentary vote. He
was appointed local governor a year later with an overwhelming
98 percent backing from the provincial assembly.
Yet Katumbi has got used to taking the flak, whether from
political rivals or Congo's business federation, whose members
struggle with steep local taxes they say are levied illegally.
Regularly touted as a presidential contender -- a dangerous
destiny in Congo, where several past hopefuls have been toppled
or killed -- Katumbi admits politics has won him many enemies,
even if he doesn't actually sport body armour.
"People are saying 'He's getting money from the province,
he's stealing left and right, he's not paying duty'," said
Katumbi, who says he no longer has a role in his family's
trucking and heavy machinery businesses and has sold former
"I said I'm going to run this province like a private
company: that's what I'm doing," said Katumbi, the son of
Congolese royalty on his mother's side and whose father was an
Italian Jewish emigre from the Greek island of Rhodes.
Congo's richest province has long been divided between an
under-developed but politically influential north nicknamed
"useless Katanga", and the "useful" mineral-rich south, whose
wealth and independent streak is seen as a threat to Kinshasa.
Katumbi says that copper exports are rising and Katanga will
this year supply 65 percent of national receipts.
Katumbi's role has already proved pivotal for investors:
setting provincial taxes, managing investor relations and
grappling with Congo's reputation for extensive corruption.
Congo has moved up four places in the World Bank's Doing
Business rankings this year, but still comes 175 out of 183. The
country is ranked 164th most corrupt of 178 countries surveyed
by Transparency International.
The name of his family's trucking business, "Hakuna Matata",
might mean "no worries" in Swahili, but investors in the
province complain of mounting problems that threaten to put them
out of business, from local corruption to poor roads.
Canada's First Quantum Minerals (FM.TO) is in international
arbitration after the government withdrew rights to its $750
million mining project after a review and handed them to Kazakh
rivals ENRC, sending Congolese political risk premiums up 40
Yet Katumbi said investment is pouring in after resolution
of a separate dispute with U.S. miner Freeport-McMoRan (FCX.N),
which last month conceded a share of its $2 billion Tenke
project and more than $70 million to the state last month.
"Tenke went for negotiation and Tenke got it," said Katumbi,
underlining investors are welcome so long as they are open.
The keen tennis player lists his achievements as raising
road toll collection from $3.7 million a year to more than $60
million, building more than 1,000 kilometres of roads, boosting
mining taxes from $2 million to $150 million and cutting customs
He wants to boost Congo's share of profits from mining in
the province, noting only 200 of 32,000 trucks arriving every
month are Congolese-owned. Too many foreigners arrive with
"cash-stuffed briefcases" to bribe their way into the sector and
leave as billionaires, he says without elaborating.
Pictured driving a bus as poster boy for "November" in a
locally-produced 2010 wall calendar in his office, Katumbi said
he will step down as governor next year to preserve his family's
reputation and return to business, particularly transport.
As chairman of Africa's top football club, TP Mazembe, which
took the African Champions League this month after clinching
victory against Tunis, he has already secured fame.
His wealthy businessman brother Raphael Katebe also gave up
politics and now lives in Belgium, while previous governors of
Katanga have gone on to exercise great political and investment
influence, including in Kinshasa.
Katumbi said he remains "very sad" at losing out on what he
estimates could have been a profit of up to $800 million by
choosing to sell out his 30 percent stake of Toronto-listed
copper miner Anvil Mining AVM.TO for $60 million in 2006-2007
to avoid a conflict of interest when he went into politics.
"Maybe I am supposed to be one of the billionaires in this
country (rather) than to stay as a poor governor," he mused.