Vital Kamerhe, chief of staff to the President of Democratic Republic of Congo, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.
He was found guilty today by a high court of embezzling $48 million in public funds.
He is not going on a picnic in jail as he will do hard labour.
Kamerhe has become the most senior politician convicted of graft in Congo, plagued with endemic corruption.
“The court has established as fact the offence of embezzlement of public funds relating to the amount of $48,831,148,” said presiding judge Pierrot Bankenge Mvita.
In a sign of the times, Mvita wore a mask and rubber gloves.
Kamerhe denied stealing money earmarked for social housing under President Felix Tshisekedi’s flagship 100-day building programme.
He dismissed the accusations as political.
His lawyer, Jean Marie Kabengela Ilunga, called the verdict a “violation of human rights” and said he would appeal.
Kamerhe, a veteran power broker, appeared at the three-hour outdoor court hearing in a blue and yellow prison jacket.
He also wore a mask to protect against the new coronavirus.
He backed Tshisekedi in his successful 2018 election campaign.
He expected Tshisekedi’s support in 2023.
Under the ruling, Kamerhe will not be able to run for president for ten years after serving his punishment.
His arrest on April 8 sent shock waves through the nation.
Last week the justice minister revealed that the former presiding judge was brutally murdered.
He was originally said to have died of a heart attack last month.
Transparency groups and the international community had pressured Tshisekedi to fulfil his campaign promise of clamping down on corruption.
“I sincerely think that this is a positive sign for the fight against corruption,” said Florimond Muteba from the Observatory of Public Expenditure.