22 Jun 2020
Vital Kamerhe, the chief of staff of Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, was sentenced to 20 years forced labor and faces millions of dollars in fines after a court convicted him of embezzlement and corruption.
Kamerhe was convicted of participating in the theft of more than $50 million from infrastructure projects linked to the first 100 days of Tshisekedi’s tenure last year.
The 61-year-old has said the trial was a political attack by enemies of the president. Tshisekedi himself has declined to comment on the case.
A tribunal based in the capital, Kinshasa, called the fact that Kamerhe intended to commit the crimes “unequivocal” in a reading of the judgment that was broadcast on national television. As the judge read the verdict, Kamerhe laughed out loud.
The case, which has captivated the nation for months, caused a sensation on Tuesday when Congo’s Justice Minister announced that the original judge in the trial, Raphael Yanyi Ovungu, didn’t die of natural causes as announced last month. An autopsy of the body found his death was caused by a brain hemorrhage after trauma to the head and a murder investigation is under way.
Kamerhe has been a powerful player in the country’s politics for more than 15 years. He helped lead former President Joseph Kabila’s first election campaign in 2006, after which he became National Assembly head. Kamerhe broke with Kabila in 2009, then ran for president against his former boss in 2011, finishing third.
He became Tshisekedi’s chief of staff after the two men brokered an agreement in 2018 that was supposed to let Kamerhe run for president in 2023. He is no longer eligible to run due to the conviction. The judgment also prohibited him from voting or serving in government for 10 years.
“The verdict gives hope to Congolese who continue to decry the theft of their resources by political elites and the impunity they’ve enjoyed until now,” Fred Bauma of the Congo Research Group at New York University said by message Saturday. “However, Vital isn’t the only guilty one and justice will be incomplete if he’s the sole person prosecuted and convicted.”
Kamerhe’s conviction removes a key political player from the scene, and boosts the young Tshisekedi administration’s fight against endemic corruption. But it also sidelines one of the president’s key allies in his power struggle with Kabila, whose supporters control most of the country’s institutions.
By Michael Kavanagh, Bloomberg, 20 June 2020
Read more at Bloomberg
Photo (cropped and edited): The Chancellery of the Senate of the Republic of Poland/CC BY-SA 3.0 PL
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