On June 20, 2020 a Judge in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) sentenced one of the country’s high level official, Mr. Kamerhe Lwa Kanyigini Vital, the President’s chief of staff to 20 years of hard labor for embezzlement and corruption. His co-accused, Mr. Samih Jammal, a businessman from Lebanon got the same sentence for the same offenses in addition to laundering money and financing terrorism.  Muhima Ndoole Jeannot, a staff member at the presidency was also sentenced to two years on corruption charges.

Since his detention on April 8, 2020, Africa Faith and Justice Network followed with great interest the historic prosecution of Mr. Kamerhe for many reasons. In fact, for far too long the DRC’s justice system was never just and still prosecutes the powerless and protects the powerful. Through an organized bribery mechanism the accused, guilty or not, sustains the livelihood of those who work in the judiciary and law enforcement by buying justice and their freedom.  The justice system,the foundation of any democratic country, was intentionally weakened by the political leadership over decades and enabled them to loot the country with impunity.  For this and other reasons, the detention and later conviction of Kamerhe seemed surreal, surprising, exciting and hopeful for the Congolese people and the international community which has been waiting for reforms including the judiciary. Unfortunately, the DRC  has been badly governed and mismanaged for far too long by looters and instead of becoming a donor country it has become one of the world’s poorest.  

Mr. Kamerhe was convicted on embezzlement charges of a total of $50,968,648 in direct collaboration with his co-accused Mr. Jammal owner of two  companies SAMIBO SARL and HUSMAL SARL which received the DRC government contract to import and build 1,500 pre-made homes destined for military and police housing in five provinces and 3,000 in the capital city Kinshasa. Court documents show that  the Minister of Finance ordered the payment of $ 57,500,000 to Samih Jammal.

Corruption charges include gifts which Mr. Jammal gave to Mr. Kemerhe through the intermediary of family members to disguise the corruption scheme. One of these gifts is an expensive real estate in the Capital City of Kinshasa whose title has the name of Soraya Mpyana identified as a family member to Kamerhe. In violation of DRC’s anti money laundering and financing terrorism laws, Mr. Jammal transferred to Lebanon more than $10,000,000 without using proper financial institutions or their intermediaries.

 “The Court notes that the defendant Samih Jammal is unable to justify the destination taken by the sum of $ 48,831,148 USD out of the $ 57,500,000 USD received, while he acknowledges that several withdrawals, up to $ 35,000,000 USD were made either by his children, by his stepson or by other people, all of whom had nothing to do with the order for 1,500 premade houses for which the public treasury disbursed these funds. Therefore, the criminal intent at its highest level is beyond doubt; but, it could not have been achieved without receiving essential help from the defendant Kamerhe Lwa Kanyigini Vital…”

Also Mr. Kamerhere was convicted on embezzlement charges for an additional $1.154.800 in direct collaboration with Mr. Muhima Ndoole Jeannot, a staff member whose portfolio was import-export at the Presidency. This money was destined for customs  fees for the pre-made homes.

The verdict was harsh, pedagogic and exemplary to those entrusted to manage public resources. Mr. Kamerhe and Mr. Jammal were each sentenced to 20 years of hard labor, and Mr. Muhima 2 years. Also, the court ordered the confiscation of the funds in the accounts of the following Kamerhe’ family members, Mrs. Amida Chatur (wife), Soraya Mpiana and Nshangalume Nkingi Daniel nicknamed Massaro. It also ordered the seizure of seven real estate properties acquired with embezzled funds. Three titles were established in the names of Nshangalume Daniel and  one each in the names of Mpiana Daida, Hamida Chatur Kamerhe, Mayutu Namwisi Dieudonné;  and Soraya Mpiana

After serving their sentence, both Kamerhe and Muhima were banned from voting, being elected, or holding any public office respectively for 10 and 5 years. The Court deprived Kamerhe the right to be released on parole. After serving his sentence, Jammal will be deported to Lebanon, his home country.

Obviously, Mr. Kamerhe was one of DRC’s corrupt and untouchable elites who continued to act with impunity. Since President Felix Tshisekedi empowered the judiciary system, former government officials and their collaborators who embezzled public funds live in constant fear of being held accountable by the now energized justice system. On June 23, just 3 days after the sentencing of Kamerhe, the Chief Executive Officers (CEO) Benjamin Wenga of  the Office des Voiries et Drainages (OVD), Fulgence Bamaros of the Fonds National d’Entretien Routier (FONER),  and Modeste Makabuza Société Congolaise de Construction (SOCOC) were also sentenced for embezzlement $12,500.000. These funds were destined to the rehabilitation of roads in the North and South Kivu provinces as part of the President’s emergency plan of the first 100 days of his presidential term.

For decades, these selfish predators who rose to power and their collaborators systematically destroyed DRC’s institutions,  economy, army, police, education, society and reputation, just to name a few. The conviction of Kamerhe and the three chief executive officers inspires hope for many Congolese to one day live in a country different from what the current elite has created and still want to keep. Now that the justice system has found its independence, starting from within, it must clean up the mess of corruption and restore the rule of law.  Those who run the DRC and ransacked it for years should, without delay, face justice because they impoverished the Congolese people who had accused them of corruption and embezzlement, but no judge was willing to administer justice. Now is the time.

Written by Ntama Bahati, Policy Analyst