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Vital Kamerhe trial: the curious murder of Judge Raphael Yanyi

By Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala, in Kinshasa
Posted on Friday, 19 June 2020 17:53

Judge Raphael Yanyi, during one of the hearings for Vital Kamerhe audiences du procès Kamerhe. (Screen grap from RTNC)

According to an autopsy report, the judge presiding over the hearings of Vital Kamerhe’s trial died after receiving one or more blows to the head. However, there are several discrepancies in the case and Raphael Yanyi’s family does not believe the official version of events.

What really happened on the afternoon of 26 May? When and how was Raphael Yanyi – the judge who, just the day before, tenaciously presided over the hearings of the most politically charged and significant trial in recent years, that of Vital Kamerhe – killed? The case, full of discrepancies, is dominating headlines.

READ MORE DRC: Congolese court seeks 20 years in prison for Vital Kamerhe

On 16 June, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s justice minister, Celestin Tunda Ya Kasende, asserted that the 55-year-old judge died during the night of 26 to 27 May “of intracranial bleeding caused by a traumatic brain injury”.

The autopsy report, released on the same date, indicates that Yanyi was struck several times in “a very sensitive area of the head” and that these blows “led to a blood clot in the brain, the primary cause of death”. Given the autopsy results, the minister announced “the launch of a criminal investigation that will allow us to shed light on the circumstances surrounding this murder, identify the perpetrators and punish them to the full extent of the law”.

The case has now become a murder investigation, whereas in the hours following Yanyi’s death, Miguel Bagaya, national police chief, maintained that Yanyi had “died of a heart attack”, while all of Kinshasa was buzzing with the wildest of rumours.

Nevertheless, the new version of events raises several questions, in part because the two medical examiners who conducted the autopsy (one of whom was placed at the service of the authorities by MONUSCO) found traces of “toxic substances” in the body of the deceased. However, Kasende stated that the substances were present in “non-lethal doses” and that poisoning was therefore not the cause of death. The judge, he insisted, died of blunt force head trauma.

Under around-the-clock protection

If this is true, when and under what circumstances was the judge assaulted? According to our sources, Yanyi  had been under the protection “of at least six police officers” around the clock since the start of the trial of the president’s former chief of staff, charged with embezzling public funds. It’s hard to believe that he could be struck so violently and, ultimately, fatally, without anyone ever noticing or him reporting the matter to his entourage.

Also, what did he do on that fateful day? We know that he was admitted to Nganda hospital, in Kinshasa, at around 2 am on 27 May. When contacted by reporters, his wife refused to provide a detailed account of the hours preceding his death, explaining that she felt that by making a statement she could be risking her life, not to mention that of her four underage children.

One of the couple’s neighbours stated that Yanyi came home around 3 pm. Several people were present at his residence, located in the neighbourhood of Bisengo-Bandalungwa: his wife and children, as well as a housekeeper, a private security guard and the police officers tasked with protecting him. “His wife, with whom I spoke, said that everything was normal, but at 10 pm, he started vomiting,” Yanyi’s neighbour said. “His wife confirmed that he was vomiting blood,” Leon Muka, a cousin of the deceased, said. “[She thinks] he inhaled a toxic substance wherever he was before he came home.”

Two meetings with officials

What was the judge up to before coming home that day? According to our sources, he attended at least two meetings with officials. The first took place at the Palais de la Nation, the president’s official residence, where Yanyi met with a member of President Felix Tshisekedi’s cabinet. The second meeting was held in a place we have yet to determine, where the judge spoke with another high-ranking official from the president’s administration.

Was this meeting with François Beya, Tshisekedi’s national security adviser? This information was widely shared on social media, but according to one of Beya’s staff members, it isn’t true: “It’s a hoax, one of these fake news items disseminated by obscure sources seeking to create confusion in the highest levels of government.”

One thing is certain: after this second meeting, Yanyi went back to his office at the Court of Kinshasa- Gombe. There, based on a statement made the day after Yanyi’s death by Kinshasa police chief Sylvano Kasongo, the judge experienced a first bout of sickness and decided to go home.

An account disputed by his family

If he was struck in the head, then why didn’t he tell his family or escort? And how did his escort not see anything and sound the alarm? Given how improbable this version of the events seems, Yanyi’s family refutes it and continues to believe he was poisoned.

On 17 June, the family released an official statement challenging the autopsy’s conclusions, maintaining that the process was “flawed”. “The autopsy results announced [by the justice minister] were based on political rather than investigative considerations,” the statement reads, with the family adding that it was unfortunate that they were not the first to be informed about the conclusions of the autopsy report completed by the two medical examiners. The publication of the autopsy report in the media “is a violation of investigative secrecy”, the statement continues, with the family requesting the launch of an independent probe.

READ MORE Vital Kamerhe case: The DRC’s legal team goes on the offensive

From discrepancies in the versions of events reported to holes in the judge’s agenda, there are many grey areas that the probe should clear up. There’s no question that the case will be on everyone’s minds on Saturday, 20 June, when Pierrot Bankenge Mvita, the new judge presiding over the hearings of Kamerhe’s trial, is set to deliver his verdict. 

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