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Top aide to DR Congo president in court in $51-mln graft probe

FILE PHOTO: Vital Kamerhe, chief of staff for President Félix Tshisekedi

Kinshasa, DR Congo | AFP | A key ally of DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi will appear in court on May 11 over alleged fraud totalling $51 million (47 million euros), a document received by AFP on Wednesday said.

Vital Kamerhe, a veteran politician who became the president’s chief of staff after helping him to election victory in 2018, has been in detention since April 8.

He will appear at the Kinshasa High Court alongside Samih Jammal, a 78-year-old Lebanese businessman based in Kinshasa, according to a copy of the summons, dated April 25.

The two are accused of embezzling $48.8 million from funds for building 1,500 pre-fabricated homes for poor people under a programme launched by Tshisekedi after he took office in January last year.

They also allegedly siphoned off $2.13 million from a programme to build housing for police and the military in Kinshasa.

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.

Kamerhe denies the accusations saying that all public-sector contracts were “inherited” from previous governments, according to an unsuccessful request he filed for early release from custody.

The 61-year-old previously served as speaker of parliament and heads an influential political party, the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC).

Once a pillar of the regime of former president Joseph Kabila, he moved to opposition ranks in 2011, running in elections that year.

He initially stood in the 2018 presidential elections but backed out to team up with Tshisekedi.

The two leaders signed a political agreement in Nairobi in November 2018 that gave birth to a joint platform, Heading for Change.

The UNC has 16 seats in parliament and several ministers in Tshisekedi’s huge coalition government.

The biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo has an abundance of natural resources, but most of its 80 million people live below the threshold of poverty.

The country struggles with a long history of conflict, poor governance and graft.

A banker, two corporate bosses and an official from a state-owned firm are also being probed over irregularities from a “100 day” action plan launched by Tshisekedi after taking office.

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