President Tshisekedi was in the know, top aide Kamerhe claims in graft case

FILE PHOTO: Vital Kamerhe, leader of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) party, attends a meeting with Congo's Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) and observers from the Southern African Development Community(SADC) in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, December 28, 2018. REUTERS/Baz Ratner/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Veteran Congolese politician and chief of staff to President Felix Tshisekedi, Vital Kamerhe. REUTERS/Baz Ratner/File Photo

Veteran Congolese politician and chief of staff to President Felix Tshisekedi, Vital Kamerhe, who is accused of embezzling $50 million from funds for a social housing project, claimed that nothing was done without the knowledge of Tshisekedi.

Kamerhe made the claims as he defended himself in court in a televised session of the proceedings from Kinshasa’s central prison which lasted nearly 13 hours. Kamerhe, who is still Tshisekedi’s chief of staff, has been in detention at the prison, also known as Makala, since April 8.

Kamerhe maintains he is innocent and that he was not in office when the contracts in question were signed in April 2018.

The 61-year-old said that he “could not take responsibility without the knowledge of the president”.

According to him, Lebanese businessman Jammal Samih, who is also on trial with him, secured a contract to build 1,500 new prefabricated homes “with the express instruction of the head of state”.

An official from the government who later took the stand after being called up by the prosecution termed Kamerhe’s allegations as an insult to the head of state.

Samih, like Kamerhe, had also declared his innocence of any charges pointing out that he had lived in the country for more than 50 years and was once Lebanon’s “honorary consul” before 1997.

Tshisekedi launched a housing programme for poor people and another one for police and the military in Kinshasa after he took office in January 2019.

Kamerhe is separately accused of embezzling public funds along with a civil servant in charge of the import-export service in the president’s office.

Proceedings in the case, which had been suspended for a week following the unexpected death of the presiding judge Raphael Yanyi, had resumed on Wednesday. According to authorities, Yanyi died of a heart attack though the autopsy results are yet to be released.

The case against Kamerhe has been termed as one without precedent in the country and is viewed as a step-up in the fight against corruption. However, some see it as a means of settling political scores. His supporters, in particular, claim it is a ploy to remove him from the 2023 presidential election.

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