A Lebanese businessman and contractor has been sentenced to 20 years of hard labour in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for diverting nearly $50 million of public funds, Al Jazeera reported.
Jammal Samih, 79, was found guilty of siphoning money, some of which was ostensibly earmarked by the government for building 1,500 social housing units. The Lebanese businessman will be expelled from the DRC at the end of his sentence, according to AP.
Al Jazeera quoted the presiding judge Pierrot Bankenge Mvita as saying: "From everything we have heard, the court has established as fact the offence of embezzlement of public funds relating to the amount of $48,831,148."
Samih was convicted along with Vital Kamerhe, 61, who had served as Chief of Staff for President of the DRC Felix Tshisekedi. Like Samih, Kamerhe received 20 years hard labour, and a ten-year ban on holding public office. Meanwhile, a third defendant, Jeannot Muhima, received two years of hard labour.
Karmerhe's lawyer Pierre-Olivier Sur said his team would be seeking to appeal the sentence because forced labour is banned under the country's constitution, according to a report by Naharnet.
Sur also called the proceedings a "show trial" after the case, held in the courtyard of the jail where the defendants were kept, was broadcast on national television.
Proceedings of Karmerhe and Samih's case faced several twists and turns, after a legal technicality, whereby Karmerhe's lawyer was able to question the constitutionality of the trial, threatened to postpone the verdict.
The judge presiding over the case died suddenly on 27 May. Local police reported the judge died after going into cardiac arrest, but the Ministry of Justice later claimed he was murdered after an autopsy showed signs of a brain haemorrhage caused by blunt force trauma to the head.
The trial is unprecedented for tackling the corruption of DRC's political elites and is reportedly part of a wider campaign to root out cases of fraud.
According to an AFP report, other senior officials and businesses are facing trial on similar charges, with verdicts on their cases expected tomorrow.