DR Congo president’s chief of staff, Vital Kamerhe, was found guilty of embezzling $48 million in public funds and was thereafter sentenced to 20 years in jail, the lead judge said.
He was once a future presidential hopeful, and is the most senior politician convicted of graft in Congo, where high-level corruption is endemic. He now faces 20 years of hard labour.
The presiding judge Pierrot Bankenge Mvita said: “The court has established as fact the offence of embezzlement of public funds relating to the amount of $48,831,148.”
Kamerhe, however, denied stealing money earmarked for social housing under President Felix Tshisekedi’s flagship 100-day building programme, and has dismissed the accusations as political.
His lawyer, Jean Marie Kabengela Ilunga, called the verdict a “violation of human rights” and said he would appeal.
Kamerhe, a veteran power broker, appeared at the three-hour outdoor court hearing in a blue and yellow prison jacket and also wore a mask to protect against the new coronavirus.
He backed Tshisekedi in his successful 2018 election campaign in return for Tshisekedi’s support the next time around in 2023. Under the ruling, Kamerhe will not be able to run for president for ten years after his punishment.
His arrest on April 8 sent shock waves through the nation.
Last week the justice minister revealed that the former presiding judge, who was originally said to have died of a heart attack last month, was actually brutally murdered.
Transparency groups and the international community had been pressurising Tshisekedi to fulfil his campaign promise of clamping down on corruption, political analysts say.