DR Congo court hands top presidential aide 20-year sentence in graft case

Published June 20, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Agence France-Presse

A top DR Congo court on Saturday, June 20, sentenced Vital Kamerhe, chief of staff to President Felix Tshisekedi and a key powerbroker, to 20 years hard labor for corruption in an unprecedented case testing the government’s anti-graft campaign.

Kamerhe, 61, was found guilty of “diverting public funds worth 48.8 million dollars” along with his co-accused, Lebanese businessman Jammal Samih, 79, the Kinshasa court said.

“We will appeal,” one of Kamerhe’s lawyers, Jean-Marie Kabengela, told Agence France-Presse.

The ruling was handed down in the fast-moving trial after the Constitutional Court on Friday, June 19, asked the lower court to hand over the judicial dossier under an “exception of unconstitutionality”.

The lower court had said it was unable to transmit the file.

The televised trial, which has been held in the courtyard of the capital’s main jail, takes place during a broader campaign for the “renewal” of the justice system to help root out entrenched corruption.

There have been some twists and turns, particularly after the sudden death of the presiding judge last month.

Police declared he died from cardiac arrest. But on June 16 the justice ministry said he had been murdered, after an autopsy determined he had died from a brain hemorrhage caused by “blows” to the head.

The sentencing marks the first time that a figure considered untouchable in Congolese political life has been tried and convicted for acts of corruption.

Kamerhe is accused of having embezzled funds allocated to the construction of 1,500 social housing units under a program announced by President Felix Tshisekedi after his inauguration in January 2019.

Congolese anti-corruption group Unis welcomed “a jolt for the rule of law” and regretted that “other key players in this affair” were not concerned, including a commercial bank.