KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — A court in Congo on Saturday sentenced the president’s chief of staff, Vital Kamerhe, to 20 years of forced labor after he was found guilty of corruption and embezzlement of more than $50 million.
His lawyers said they would appeal. Kamerhe, 61, has called the trial a political attack on himself and President Felix Tshisekedi, who has not commented on the case.
The charges stem from what the court said was “unequivocal” participation in the embezzlement of money from projects undertaken by the president during his first 100 days in office last year.
Kamerhe also was sentenced to 10 years of ineligibility to be a political candidate or vote.
He was appointed chief of staff as part of a deal made in 2018 with Tshisekedi that was to see Kamerhe run for president in 2023.
He has been a political heavyweight for more than 15 years. He served as president of the National Assembly from 2007 to 2009 after helping lead former President Joseph Kabila’s first election campaign in 2006. He then broke away from Kabila and ran for president in 2011, placing third.
Lebanese contractor Jammal Samih was found guilty of the same charges and sentenced to 20 years of forced labor and expulsion from Congo at the end of his sentence. The third defendant, Jeannot Muhima, was sentenced to two years of forced labor.
Carley Petesch in Dakar, Senegal contributed.