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Australian man in diamond investigation in the Congo

Mr Muleghera said Mr Bagala had also filed a complaint against the police officer from the division of mines who had “pursued him in an arbitrary way and asked for money”. Mr Bagala does not yet have a court date and Mr Muleghera said it was possible the investigation would conclude before then.

Meanwhile, Olivier Lokolomba, a Sydney-based Australian citizen born in the Congo, has come forward to dispute parts of a recent Sun-Herald article about Mr Bagala and his fiance being stuck in the Congo because of the pandemic.

The article reported the couple had founded a non-government organisation to do humanitarian work and included Mr Bagala’s claims he has been honoured as joint-chieftain of Bokuma village and given land in the remote forested region of Opala.

Congolese-born Australian citizen Olivier Lokolomba regrets taking his former friend Joseph Bagala to the Congo.

Congolese-born Australian citizen Olivier Lokolomba regrets taking his former friend Joseph Bagala to the Congo.Credit:Louie Douvis

Mr Lokolomba, who now lives in Dee Why, said he did not believe the appointment was possible and his father Michel was the traditional king in this area, although based in Kinshasa.

“My family we have responsibility for our people,” he said. “They look up to us to go do something about our land.”

Mr Bagala travelled to the Congo in February and his visa application shows he was admitted to the country as the guest of Michel and Olivier Lokolomba. His fiance joined him in March.

Olivier Lokolomba returned to Australia before the pandemic grounded flights and closed Congolese internal and international borders, while Mr Bagala and his fiance stayed.

He said he was sceptical about the value of the humanitarian work Mr Bagala claims to be doing and did not want his people to be disappointed.

The Sun-Herald has seen photographs and receipts and heard from witnesses confirming that Mr Bagala has carried out humanitarian work in Bokuma and surrounding areas.

Jean Tongo Bandamali, the provincial Minister for the Interior and Security, also confirmed he had seen evidence of Mr Bagala’s aid work, including clearing roads and land for an airstrip, repairing a bridge and supplying medicines to health centres.

However, Minister Tongo said Mr Bagala had come into conflict with some of the local people and he did not believe Mr Bagala was joint-chieftain of Bokuma.

Minister Tongo is not from the Mboli people of Opala and The Sun-Herald has also spoken to several witnesses from the region, or with close knowledge of it. They say Mr Bagala holds the position of “katatela”, akin to chief and an honorary member of the local royal family.

Willy Asako, a young man from Opala region, said: “The population of Bokuma loves Bagala very much, he was crowned even as a customary chief.”

Mr Bagala has established a mining company dealing with gold, which he says is legally established with Congolese business partners who possess the correct permits. He said he was also farming coffee, cacao and honey to help support himself while he is in the Congo.

The Sun-Herald has copies of paperwork showing the Lokolomba family and Mr Bagala have both registered NGOs in the Congo called Un Mondi Uni or One World United with identical logos.

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The Lokolomba registration shows an April 2019 date, with final approval in March 2020, and lists Mr Bagala as an Australian representative. The Bagala registration is dated March 2020 and does not include the Lokolomba family.

Mr Bagala is also director of an Australian company called One World United, founded in December.

Minister Tongo confirmed there were two NGOs with the same name. “I am waiting to solve this problem as soon as the containment ends because Mr Michel [Lokolomba] is blocked [stuck] in Kinshasa,” he said.

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