DR Congo: Vital Kamerhe faces up to 20 years in prison

The last words pronounced by Vital Kamerhe at the bar after a fifth audience broadcast live, and very followed by the Congolese, still resonate this Friday morning. The man defended tooth and nail against the accusations that rain against him. “I ask the court to declare my innocence. Neither the lawyers of the Republic nor the public prosecutor, nobody could prove the guilt of Mr. Vital Kamerhe “, notes the director of cabinet speaking of him in the third person. “It is not I who am attacked, but it is the president of the Republic”, he justified, remaining faithful to his line of defense. Will he be heard as the end of the trial approaches? The court must now deliberate and its decision is expected by June 20. He must decide when during the pleadings the public prosecutor requested the conviction of the chief of staff of the head of state and political ally to twenty years of forced labor for embezzlement of public funds and 15 years for corruption.

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The public prosecutor requests 20 years of forced labor

Vital Kamerhe, 61, is the principal of three defendants in an unprecedented trial for alleged embezzlement and laundering of some $ 50 million in public money. In pre-trial detention since April 8, the chief of staff is on trial inside the Kinshasa central prison. Like his two co-defendants, he proclaimed his innocence, denouncing a “political trial” and the “brutality and relentlessness” of the court against him. “We are not doing law here. We are playing politics. This trial is political. We could not demonstrate here with an irrefutable document the diversion of Mr. Vital Kamerhe, “argues the astonished man that the prosecution has failed to substantively prove the facts of which he is accused.

The prosecutor requested twenty years of “forced labor” against him, as well as ten years of deprivation of the right to vote and to stand as a candidate. The same sentence of twenty years was required against the first of his two co-defendants, the Lebanese entrepreneur Jammal Samih, 78 years old, including more than 50 in the Congo.

The prosecution also asked for the “confiscation of bank funds” from the wife of Vital Kamerhe, her daughter and a cousin of the accused, as well as “the confiscation of real estate properties acquired with the embezzled funds during the period from January 2019 to date ”.

In the pleadings of the civil party, a lawyer from the Democratic Republic of the Congo claimed that the couple who married in February 2019 had acquired and renovated a mansion in France for more than a million euros.

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“True justice will come from God”

“It is as if we really wanted to kill the whole family,” defended Vital Kamerhe, white beard surrounding his face, speaking of a house “45 minutes from Paris”. “True justice will come from God, when human judges depart from true justice,” he added, claiming to have warned his wife before the hearing that “mass is said” regarding her judicial fate.

Originally from the province of South Kivu (East), Vital Kamerhe has been a central figure in Congolese political life since the 2000s. As a declared presidential candidate on December 30, 2018, he had withdrawn in favor of Félix Tshisekedi for a month before the ballot. The two men had signed an agreement that Mr. Kamerhe would become Prime Minister and candidate for the next presidential election in 2023.

Once in power, Félix Tshisekedi had finally appointed him director of cabinet, before reserving the post of Prime Minister to someone close to his predecessor Joseph Kabila, under another political agreement.

The public money that Kamerhe is accused of having embezzled was to finance an emergency works component of the “100 days” program launched by the Head of State in early March 2019. This component focused on the construction of social housing for military, in the form of 1,500 prefabricated houses imported from Turkey. The deal was made with Jammal Samih, who also asked for his acquittal: “I am innocent,” he said. The two men are tried with a third accused, Jeannot Muhima, in charge of the import-export service at the presidency of the Republic, and the customs clearance of imported goods.

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Arbitrary detention, suspicious death of Raphaël Yanyi

From Paris, a group of lawyers from Vital Kamerhe claimed to have seized a “United Nations working group on arbitrary detention”, “requesting an urgent intervention to guarantee respect for the fundamental rights of Vital Kamerhe”. “There is no evidence of culpable financial flows,” write in a statement Me Jean-Marie Kabengela and Me Pierre-Olivier Sur.

The two lawyers also return to the sudden death of magistrate Raphaël Yanyi on the night of May 26 to 27, barely two days after presiding over the second trial hearing. Pending an autopsy report, “several sources” suggest that the magistrate has been “poisoned and designate Mr. Vital Kamerhe as responsible”. “In this tense context, the Congolese prison authorities are unable to guarantee security,” said Vital Kamerhe.

Vital Kamerhe has not officially resigned from his post as chief of staff, but an interim – his deputy – has been appointed. Similarly, none of the allies of Vital Kamerhe, president of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC), a party which includes several ministers in the coalition government of President Tshisekedi, has resigned to date.

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