The Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) opposition party in the Democratic Republic of Congo welcomed the conditional release Tuesday of Vital Kamerhe, the former president’s chief of staff who was jailed for corruption.
Kamerhe was sentenced in June 2020 to 20 years of forced labor by a Congolese court after he was found guilty of “diverting public funds worth $48.8 million” meant for public works.
His sentence was reduced to 13 years in June 2021 on appeal.
But he was granted parole Monday by the Court of Cassation.
“This release allows a father to find his biological and political family and it will facilitate an adequate monitoring of his health in appropriate medical facilities,” the UNC said in a statement.
Kamerhe, 61, is the most powerful politician to be convicted of corruption in Congo.
He was sentenced along with Jammal Samih, a Lebanese businessman, 79, who also received 20 years of hard labor but later had that sentence increased six years on appeal.
Kamerhe has been a top power-broker in Congolese politics for decades. He made a pact to back President Felix Tshisekedi in the 2018 election with the expectation of succeeding the incumbent in the top post.
Embezzlement charges against Kamerhe involved funds allocated for the construction of 1,500 social housing units under a program announced by Tshisekedi following his inauguration in January 2019.
Kamerhe denied any wrongdoing.
In July, Tshisekedi said as much as he deplored his former aide being implicated in the embezzlement case. He contended that Kamerhe is “someone that the country needs due to his intelligence, experience and was convinced that he would serve in another role in the country again.”
Kamerhe’s party, the UNC, is part of the Sacred Union, a new coalition created by Tshisekedi after breaking with the Common Front for Congo (FCC) coalition, which is aligned with former President Joseph Kabila.