Congo prosecutor asks Senate to lift former PM's immunity over new allegations

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Congo's former prime minister, Matata Ponyo Mapon (right), is seen with Belgium's former PM, Elio Di Rupo, before a meeting in Brussels, June 24, 2014. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

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KINSHASA, June 29 (Reuters) - Congo's public prosecutor has asked the Senate to authorise a formal investigation into allegations former prime minister Matata Ponyo Mapon misappropriated over $140 million earmarked to be paid out to victims of state confiscations.

The prosecutor said in a letter to the Senate president dated June 24 that payments ordered by Matata in 2011 while serving as finance minister had gone to people without valid claims to government compensation. The letter was seen by Reuters on Tuesday.

It said Matata personally benefited from the payments but did not provide evidence of this.

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Matata's spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Senate earlier this month rejected a request by prosecutors to lift his immunity over allegations he misappropriated funds from a failed agriculture project. read more

Matata has denied those allegations and said they are part of a smear campaign against him.

The prosecutor said the $140 million was paid out under a 1977 law authorising compensation to foreign businesspeople in Congo, then known as Zaire, who had properties confiscated in 1973 and 1974 as part of an economic nationalisation drive.

Matata, who was prime minister from 2012 to 2016, enjoys immunity from prosecution in his current role as a senator.

The Senate narrowly turned down the prosecutor's request to lift his immunity over the Bukanga Lonzo agriculture project, from which prosecutors allege over $200 million went missing.

The government touted Bukanga Lonzo as an answer to chronic food shortages when it was launched in 2014, but production ceased when the South African company operating it left Congo in 2017.

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Reporting by Benoit Nyemba in Kinshasa Additional reporting by Aaron Ross Editing by Matthew Lewis

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