• Vital Kamerhe was sentenced to 20 years hard labour on Saturday.
  • The chief of staff to DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi is accused of having embezzled funds.
  • The sentencing marks the first time a senior political figure has been tried and convicted.


A top DR Congo court on Saturday sentenced Vital Kamerhe, chief of staff to President Felix Tshisekedi and a key powerbroker, to 20 years hard labour 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, said.

The ruling was handed down in the fast-moving trial after the Constitutional Court on Friday 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 haemorrhage 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 programme 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.

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