Judge in Congo President Aide’s Trial Murdered, State Says

(Bloomberg) -- The judge who oversaw the corruption trial of Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi’s chief of staff was murdered, Justice Minister Celestin Tunda Ya Kasende said.

Judge Raphael Yanyi Ovungu, who was handling the trial of Vital Kamerhe, died May 26. His death initially was thought to have been from natural causes.

An autopsy of the body found he suffered a brain hemorrhage after trauma to the head, according to a statement on Twitter that Tunda ya Kasende verified in a message to Bloomberg. There was also a non-lethal dose of an unidentified toxic substance in Yanyi’s body, it said.

The justice ministry will open “a judicial investigation in order to elucidate the circumstances of this murder and to identify the authors,” Tunda ya Kasende said. A spokesman for Tshisekedi declined to comment.

“The government of the republic condemns with all its energy this ignoble act and calls on the population to stay calm,” Tunda ya Kasende said. The minister also urged magistrates “not to submit to intimidation no matter where it comes from.”

Kamerhe is on trial for his alleged participation in the theft of more than $50 million from infrastructure projects linked to the first 100 days of Tshisekedi’s tenure last year. Yanyi was replaced by Judge Pierrot Bankenge Mvita last month, and a judgment in the case is expected June 20.

Kamerhe, one of Congo’s most powerful politicians, has said he is innocent of all charges and that the trial was “political.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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