Moise Katumbi
The once powerful Katanga governor, Moise Katumbi, announced his candidacy to replace President Joseph KabilaReuters

Presidential candidate Moise Katumbi has vowed to attend a rally to be held by the opposition in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on 31 July, defying a warrant for his arrest by the government.

Katumbi is seen as the leading challenger to President Joseph Kabila in elections due to be held in November 2016, but a recent criminal conviction effectively made him ineligible to stand. The football magnate, who is currently in exile in Belgium, has not been on Congolese soil since 20 May when he flew to Johannesburg to seek medical treatment.

According to his half-brother Raphael Katebe Katoto, the candidate's decision to return to the capital Kinshasa for a large rally billed for 31 July by the Opposition platform - known as the Rassemblement - follows the revelation that Katumbi's conviction was made under duress.

He was sentenced in absentia to 36 months in prison and fined $6m (£4.1m) in damages.

The president of Kamalondo-Lubumbashi court of Lubumbashi — the second largest city in the DRC and Katumbi's southeastern power base — on 26 July asked that her signature, which appears and validates the act of conviction of the former governor of Katanga be void (see Boxout below).

Katumbi 'to fly to DRC on 30 July'

This, Katebe Katoto claims, shows corruption is at the heart of the Congolese judicial system and that, by extrapolation, the arrest warrant for Katumbi on separate charges of hiring foreign mercenaries — claims he denies — should be dropped.

"I was with Moise yesterday (after the revelations) when we decided we would go. While he wants everything clarified, he absolutely wants to go back," Katebe Katoto told IBTimes UK in an exclusive interview.

Raphael Katebe Katoto
Raphael Katebe Katoto, who is opposition leader Moise Katumbi's half-brother, is a businessman and retired politicianTwitter / Adrien Seyes

"During a meeting (on 26 July) we planned everything, and Moise and I will follow the President of the Rassemblement Etienne Tshisekedi (to Kinshasa) before the 31 July meeting. It's expected that we leave the 30 July in the morning to arrive in Kinshasa in the afternoon."

According to Katebe Katoto, Katumbi and other members of the Rassemblement will only attend a national dialogue with Kabila if "the government stops all this judicial hassle", liberates all political prisoners and frees up the media.

Regime is "desperate to neutralise" Katumbi

"For them (the regime), it is a necessity to neutralise Moise, who is a political obstacle, and that's why they used the justice to do so. In a normal and logical reasoning, this condemnation no longer has a legal force, but because in the DRC the regime does not reason normally, they will go for him" Katebe Katoto said over the phone.

The 72-year-old, however, said it was important that the international community "is and stays logical" when looking at the "false allegations", and by extrapolation, the arrest warrant for his brother.

"The minister of Justice said he had signed an arrest warrant for Moise - but that is despite the government knowing they have nothing against him and the charges are trumped-up," Katebe Katoto added.

UPDATE:

27/07/2016 14:05 GMT) After being diverted onto Brazzaville, the capital of the neighbouring Republic of the Congo allegedly on orders from the government, the private jet carrying Etienne Tshisekedi and other members of the opposition has landed in Kinshasa, a source on the ground told IBTimes UK.