The judge in a high-profile graft trial involving a key ally of DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi died suddenly overnight of a heart attack, police said Wednesday.
Judge Raphael Yanyi “fell ill at around 2 a.m. and was taken to Nganda Hospital Centre. He died as a result of a cardiac arrest,” Kinshasa Police Colonel Miguel Bagaya said.
“There have been scuffles in the street near his home. Young people in the neighbourhood have tried to provoke trouble. The security forces are intervening,” he added.
The trial, screened live on national TV, centres on Vital Kamerhe, 61, a veteran political figure who is also Tshisekedi’s chief of staff.
He and two co-defendants are accused of embezzling more than $50 million (46 million euros) in state funds from a project to build social housing.
The trial has no precedent in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s recent history.
It takes place in the context of a broader campaign for the “renewal” of the justice system to help root out entrenched corruption.
The star defendant, Kamerhe, was once a pillar of the regime of former president Joseph Kabila.
He served as parliament speaker from 2006 to 2009 before moving to the opposition ranks in 2011 and running in elections that year.
As head of the influential Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) party, he initially stood in the 2018 presidential poll but bowed out to team up with Tshisekedi, becoming his chief of staff in January 2019.
He was arrested on April 8 and put on trial in proceedings that began on May 8 at Kinshasa’s Makala prison.
Monday saw the second day of the trial.
Kamerhe said he was innocent, requested bail and asked to call the governor of the central bank and several ministers as witnesses. Proceedings were then adjourned until June 3.
Yanyi’s death “may have been of natural causes. But it’s come at a delicate moment, it starts to look shady all the same. Serious inquiries have to be carried out to determine the cause,” said Carbone Beni, a pro-democracy campaigner who co-founded a grassroots group, Filimbi.
Kamerhe has not quit or been fired as chief of staff since his arrest. An interim replacement has been appointed in the meantime.