Moise Katumbi
Leading opposition parties have backed Moise Katumbi for president Federico Scoppa/AFP/Getty

The Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) most popular man, Moise Katumbi, who announced his candidacy for president on 4 April, is facing an "imminent arrest" in his hometown of Lubumbashi, one of his close advisers warned.

Seen as the biggest challenge to force the electoral calendar back on track, Katumbi accepted the nomination of the three opposition parties including the G7, the Collectif des Nationalistes, and the Alternance pour la République 2016 to be their candidate for president.

Katumbi (full name Moise Katumbi Chapwe) in March urged incumbent President Joseph Kabila to step down from power once his second full term in office comes to an end in December. Kabila has been accused of delaying the electoral process as he seeks to prolong his rule into a third term, which is barred under the constitution and is at present a prevalent theme in a number of African countries.

Olivier Kamitatu, a former planning minister and from the opposition group, the G7, told IBTimes UK over the phone: "He (Katumbi) called me 15 minutes ago to tell me his arrest was programmed for this morning (5 May). He said security forces were surrounding his residence, where he is with Gabriel Kyungu wa Kumwanza, president de l'Union national des fédéralistes du Congo (Unafec), who had come to congratulate him. Katumbi told me he had had confirmation his arrest was imminent."

Arrest warrant against Katumbi

The political heavyweight and former close backer of Kabila, added: "Katumbi told me we had to stay strong and that our fight continues." The latest clampdown by authorities in Africa's largest copper producer is a worrying sign, as anger continues to rise at Kabila's perceived attempts to stay in power.

According to Katumbi's close adviser, the arrest warrant against Katumbi is linked to Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba's crackdown of the alleged use of foreign mercenaries by Katumbi.

Indeed, less than 24 hours ago, Thambwe Mwamba told a news conference he had "documented proof" that former US soldiers and South Africans were among the foreigners working for Katumbi in Katanga, the province in which he is based. "I gave the orders to the PGR [general prosecutor of the republic] to open a judicial case in Katanga," the minister said.

While Katumbi, the former governor of Katanga, was yet to formally respond to the allegations, his adviser Kamitatu said: "The arrest warrant is bogus, and is linked to this mercenary story that the Minister of Justice spoke about. In reality, we can't speak of mercenary - we are not at war."

"Is is just that Katumbi, whose police and military guard that was committed to his personal security was taken off him when he resigned from the ruling PPRD party in 2015, simply appointed a consultant to try and form his own guard. As a political leader, he is allowed to have his own." He added: "There's no need to cause unnecessary alarm among the national and international public."

In February, another prominent opposition leader, Martin Fayulu, was arrested in the capital Kinshasa, two days ahead of a planned general strike aimed at putting pressure on Kabila to step down from power in December 2016.