A judge who died while overseeing a prominent corruption trial in the Democratic Republic of Congo was murdered, prosecutors have claimed.
Police initially said Raphael Yanyi, 50, died of a heart attack in May, but a post-mortem examination found he was killed by “blows of sharp points or knife-like objects which were thrust into his head”.
Celestin Tunda Ya Kasende, the justice minister, said a murder investigation was under way.
Judge Yanyi had been presiding over the trial of Vital Kamerhe, the chief of staff of President Tshisekedi and a veteran power broker in the country’s murky political scene. Mr Kamerhe, 61, is accused of embezzling £40 million of state funds intended for a social housing project, in a case that was seen as a landmark in a country run by a corrupt elite, critics say.
The sudden death three weeks ago of the judge, who sat on a panel of three, led to the trial of Mr Kamerhe and two other defendants being suspended for a week.
Prosecutors are calling for a conviction and a sentence of 20 years with hard labour for Mr Kamerhe, who has denied signing contracts which the state says incriminate him. He and his wife of 18 months allegedly acquired and renovated a mansion in France for more than £1 million using money stolen from the state.
The case has been hailed as progress in Mr Tshisekedi’s pledge to crack down on corruption. Others see it as a means of settling political scores and see the hand of his predecessor, Joseph Kabila, 49, in the move against the president’s senior aide. The defendant is said to have made a pact to back Mr Tshisekedi, 57, in a 2018 election in the expectation of succeeding him.
His supporters say the case is politically motivated, aimed at blocking his chances of challenging Mr Tshisekedi at the next election in 2023.
Mr Kamerhe has been in custody since April 8. A 20-year prison sentence is also being sought against one of his co-accused, Jammal Samih, 78, a Lebanese contractor.