This trial in the first instance had turned into a big show. But this time, there were no live broadcasts of the testimonies or statements of the accused. Nor were there any crowds gathered in front of the television screens to listen to the fights between lawyers and magistrates. The hearings before the Kinshasa-Gombe Court of Appeal took place without microphones, cameras, or journalists, as no members of the press had been accredited.
The appeal judges confirmed 62-year-old Vital Kamerhe’s guilt, but reduced his sentence from 20 to 13 years of “forced labour” – which in effect means prison. 79-year-old Lebanese businessman Samih Jammal had his 20-year sentence reduced to six years. And finally, Jeannot Muhima Ndoole, the third co-accused in the so-called 100-day trial, had his sentence halved from two to one year in prison.
However, Jean-Marie Kabengele Ilunga, Kamerhe’s lawyer, says that the details concerning the appeal are still “blurry”. Ilunga is referring in particular to the 10-year period during which Kamerhe is disqualified from holding public office, to which he was sentenced in the first instance. And which would be applied at the end of his imprisonment. According to the lawyer, this sentence “did not appear” in the appeal judgment.
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Kamerhe and Jammal were found guilty of embezzling more than $50m in public funds, which had been allocated to Tshisekedi’s 100-day programme, following his accession to power. According to the judges, the two men embezzled $48.8m of this sum as part of a first contract to build 1,500 prefabricated houses for a social housing project in five of the country’s provinces: Kinshasa, Kasai-Central, Kasai-Oriental, Kongo-Central and Sud Kivu. The remaining amount of $2.1m was embezzled through another contract, this time for 3,000 prefabricated houses, which were destined for Kinshasa’s police and military.
Kamerhe was also found guilty of having wrongly received $1.1m from Ndoole in exchange for clearing and transporting these prefabricated houses.
The UNC is up in arms
Not surprisingly, the confirmation of Kamerhe’s guilt was followed by strong reactions from the UNC, a political formation that was one of Tshisekedi’s main allies during the presidential campaign that brought him to power. “This kind of political machination will never pass. This appeal judgment confirms what we said from the start, that it is all a huge conspiracy,” said Billy Kambale, the UNC’s secretary general.
The new boss of Kamerhe’s party also held a meeting on 16 June. Kambale says that the UNC could decide to “no longer participate in [state] institutions”.
The UNC is a member of the Union Sacrée, the ruling coalition that Tshisekedi formed after he broke with his predecessor, Joseph Kabila. Within the national assembly, the party has only 16 members of parliament out of a total of 500, while the Union Sacrée has 391, according to the alliance’s Modeste Bahati Lukwebo.
On the other hand, the UNC has a strong presence in the government, with five ministers, including budget (Aimé Boji Sangara) and land affairs (Aimé Molendo Sakombi), as well as a deputy justice minister (Bahibazire Mirindi Amato).
Is the UNC really willing to withdraw from the government? It is certainly not the only political formation considering this option, as a new round of complex negotiations is currently taking place between members of the very heterogeneous majority formed around the head of state, which includes former Kabila supporters and the parties of oppositionists Moïse Katumbi and Jean-Pierre Bemba.
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