Vital Kamerhe case: The DRC’s legal team goes on the offensive
The Congolese state is the plaintiff in the trial of Vital Kamerhe, Félix Tshisekedi's chief of staff accused of misappropriating nearly $50m in public funds, and the state has appointed leading lawyers that are not holding back.
As plaintiff in the trial of Vital Kamerhe, who is accused of misappropriating nearly $50m in public funds, the Congolese state has appointed leading lawyers to represent it before the court. Their initial moves seem to show that they do not intend to hold back against Félix Tshisekedi’s chief of staff.
They were the first to lead the charge. During the hearing on Monday 25 May, the lawyers representing the Congolese state pulled out all the stops against Vital Kamerhe, suspected, alongside his co-defendants, of embezzling public funds earmarked for President Félix Tshisekedi’s 100-day programme.
By naming itself as plaintiff in this unprecedented case, the state is seeking above all to receive compensation for damages in the event that Kamerhe is convicted. To that end, the ministry headed by Célestin Tunda ya Kasende, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice as well as a member of Joseph Kabila’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), appointed several leading lawyers.
They include Mr Kayudi Misamu, a brilliant lawyer and member of the Kinshasa/Matete Bar, where he serves as president of the bar, and Mr Dieudonné Kaluba Dibwa, lawyer for the Court of Cassation and the Council of State, as well as for the International Criminal Court (ICC), both taking a particularly offensive posture towards the defendant who continues to be Tshisekedi’s chief of staff.
The initial focus of the state’s strategy regarding the case is to make sure that every person who had a hand in the decision-making process for the awarding of contracts under the 100-day programme takes the stand. However, the idea is also to hear testimony from those close to the defendants, even their family members.
“Embezzlement is an offence which requires examining a series of isolated acts to prove that the crime was committed. That’s why we need to hear from all witnesses,” said Kaluba Dibwa.
Among the people the lawyers have asked to be summoned before the judges: Kamerhe’s wife, Shatur, his step-daughter, Soraya, and the children of the Lebanese businessman Jammal Samih, currently abroad.
While awaiting a potential outcome, the lawyers have concentrated their efforts on the two main defendants, and Kamerhe in particular.
Samih paid $57m by the state
“First of all, I want to clear the name of my children and my family. When did I, Vital Kamerhe, embezzle money from the central bank? When did I steal from a bank?” he emphatically said to the judges, before claiming that none of the documents in the case record proved his guilt.
Misamu immediately dismissed Kamerhe’s statement as a “general political speech meant to win over public opinion” before the plaintiff began questioning the defendants.
The first questions, directed at Kamerhe, related to the process that led to the award of the prefabricated homes contract – a key event in the case – to Samih’s company, Samibo. Kamerhe responded that responsibility for this choice fell to Justin Bitakwira, the Minister of Rural Development at the time, who signed the contract.
The plaintiff’s offensive strategy has shed light on several unclear aspects of the case. For one, Samih acknowledged that he received $57m from the state as part of the prefabricated homes contract awarded to his company, Samibo SARL. He also affirmed that he was paid at least $2m on behalf of his other company, Husmal.
The amounts were paid in several instalments without any contract drawn up, as the plaintiff and the prosecution together confirmed, with the prosecution insisting that “no contract between the Congolese state and Jammal Samih exists.”
Court hearing adjourned until 3 June
Finally, the prosecution revealed that, out of the $57m paid to Samih, he transferred $5m from the bank account of his company Samibo to that of Husmal SARL at Rawbank. According to the prosecution, two of the Lebanese businessman’s sons withdrew over $30m, which vanished into thin air.
The plaintiff’s lawyers did not fail to follow in the footsteps of the prosecution, noting that these payments were made between March and May 2019, whereas the 100-day programme’s monitoring committee was set up in June, i.e., before the contracts were even signed.
Regarding this matter, Kamerhe once again claimed that he was in no way accountable, and called on the court to question “the concerned parties”, alluding in particular to Déogratias Mutombo, the governor of the central bank, and Pierre Kangudia, the Minister of Budget at the time of the events.
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The judges seem to have heeded Kamerhe’s request, as they decided to adjourn the third court hearing until 3 June in order to summon several political figures, including the former ministers of finance, budget and rural development, to appear before the court.
These latest developments are enough to further propel the political shock wave caused by this unusual case since the arrest of the president’s right-hand man in early April.