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US imposes visa bans on Congolese officials for trafficking wildlife to China

US imposes visa bans on Congolese officials for trafficking wildlife to China
Chimpanzees eat their lunch at the Lwiro Primate Rehabilitation Center, 45 km from the city of Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, on February 14, 2022 | Credit | AFP

he United States Department of State has banned top Congolese officials from entering America over corruption allegations bordering on wildlife trafficking from the Democratic Republic of Congo to China.

In a statement on Tuesday, the spokesperson for the department, Matthew Miller, stated that the officials abused their roles of protecting wildlife by also forging documents to traffick animals.

“As public officials responsible for wildlife protection, they abused their public positions by trafficking chimpanzees, gorillas, okapi, and other protected wildlife from the DRC, primarily to the People’s Republic of China, using falsified permits, in return for bribes,” he said.

Mr Miller said their actions undermined the rule of law, government transparency in the DRC, and long-standing wildlife conservation efforts.

He said the restrictions further indicated the U.S. fight against corruption, adding that the declarations were made under section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2023.

The State Department noted, “The United States is designating the following individuals as generally ineligible for entry into the United States, due to their involvement in significant corruption.”

The officials banned from entering the U.S. included Cosma Wilungula Balongelwa, the former director-general of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN); Leonard Muamba Kanda, the former department head of the DRC Management Authority for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and Director of ICCN; and Augustin Ngumbi Amuri, the director-coordinator of the DRC CITES Management Authority and legal advisor to ICCN.

The DCR also designates Mr Kanda’s wife, Rose Nsele Ngokali and Mr Wilungula’s wife, Esther Mwanga Wilungula, as generally ineligible for entry into the United States.