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DR-Congo’s Vital Kamerhe mounts his defence

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Thursday, 14 May 2020 09:01

Vital Kamerhe, chief of staff to President Félix Tshisekedi, in Paris, on August 20, 2013 © Photo de Vincent Fournier/JA

Accused of misappropriation of public funds, Vital Kamerhe’s trial is expected to begin on Monday 11 May at the District Court of Kinshasa-La Gombe. Félix Tshisekedi’s chief of staff has surrounded himself with influential lawyers to meet the occasion.

Still in custody at Makala Prison, Vital Kamerhe, who filed four requests for temporary release to no avail, has surrounded himself with a defence team of 11 Congolese lawyers.

One of them is Jean Marie Kabengela Ilunga, an ill-fated candidate of the 2018 parliamentary elections who previously served as one of the main legal advisers to Jean Bertrand Ewanga, a rival of former president Joseph Kabila and the former secretary general of the Union pour la Nation Congolaise (UNC), Kamerhe’s party.

READ MORE: DRC: Vital Kamerhe’s request for temporary release rejected

In the past, Ilunga represented Martin Fayulu, a 2018 presidential candidate who failed to win the election and disputed the official results released by the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) before the Constitutional Court.

To round out this team of lawyers armed with extensive experience in political cases, Kamerhe solicited Professor Emeritus Nyabirungu Mwene Songa. This highly respected criminal lawyer served as senior counsel at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania, from 2000 to 2007. A member of the International Association of Penal Law, he has been practicing as counsel to the Congo’s Supreme Court of Justice since April 2016, just to name one of his current posts.

Several people close to Kamerhe distrust Songa due to his close ties with the Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC), Kabila’s coalition. Songa was personally contacted by a UNC minister to join Kamerhe’s defence team.

Saturnin Zirimani has been Kamerhe’s senior legal assistant since he was appointed chief of staff. Since his boss’s incarceration, Zirimani has been tasked with establishing and coordinating the chief of staff’s defence strategy in cooperation with the rest of the legal team, i.e., Thotho Maluma Roger, David Nyembwe, Guillaume Kyungu, Marius Bagalwa, John Kaboto, Florence Kavira and Polycarpe Mbasani.

Appeal suspended

Lastly, Kamerhe has enlisted the services of an international lawyer to further enhance his legal defence team. According to the pan-African publication La Lettre du continent, he chose Pierre-Olivier Sur, a French national known as “POS” and partner at FTMS Avocats who notably represents the interests of François Compaoré, the younger brother of Blaise Compaoré, Burkina Faso’s former president.

He was hired to refer Kamerhe’s case to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, as Kamerhe is challenging his conditions of detention in Makala Prison.

READ MORE: Why Tshisekedi’s right-hand man Vital Kamerhe sits in jail

According to our sources, POS, on Kamerhe’s request, was slated to lodge an appeal at 11am on 7 May. However, he received a call from his client informing him that Kamerhe had been given “almost certain assurance” that his request for temporary release would be granted prior to the start of his trial on 11 May. Accordingly, the appeal filing process was temporarily suspended until that date.

Congolese lawyer Kabila Muana Kabila was also involved in the appeal.