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Embezzlement trial opens for ex-DRCongo’s prime minister

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Oct 25, 2021

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s former prime minister Augustin Matata Ponyo went on trial Monday on charges he embezzled public funds.

Matata appeared briefly before the Constitutional Court, the nation’s highest judicial body, in the capital Kinshasa, an AFP journalist reported.

EMBEZZLEMENT TRIAL POSTPONED 

He appeared beside Patrice Kitebi, a close aide at the time of the alleged corruption, and Grobler Christo, a South African who is described as the manager of a South African firm.

The court adjourned the case until 8 November after pointing out that Christo had no interpreter present.

The three defendants are accused of embezzling public funds.

READ: DR Congo making headway on corruption, says finance inspector

‘INTELLECTUAL AUTHOR’ OF EMBEZZLEMENT 

In November last year, the state spending watchdog, the IGF, reported that $205 million had been plundered out of $285 million disbursed for a pilot agro-industrial park in Bukangalonzo, 250 kilometres (155 miles) southeast of the capital.

The IGF implicated Matata in its report, saying he was the “intellectual author” of the crime.

EMBEZZLEMENT ‘SLANDEROUS CLAIMS’ 

“In creating this park, the so-called pilot park, Mr. Matata falsified everything at the start to achieve his objectives,” the prosecutor alleged, without giving detail.

He has denied the accusations and his lawyer Safari Mulume told AFP previously that he had lodged a complaint against the IGF’s head and 3 other financial investigators over “slanderous” claims. 

PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY

Now a senator, Matata was minister of finance from 2010 until 2012, and prime minister from 2012 until 2016, under the regime of former president Joseph Kabila.

In May, Congolese senators denounced the case against Matata, invoking parliamentary immunity for a former prime minister.

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REQUEST

But on 5 July, 6 members of the Senate bureau agreed to a request from a Constitutional Court prosecutor to lift his parliamentary immunity for another legal case.

Before the trial opened, Matata’s defence pledged to challenge the right of the Constitutional Court to hear the case.

Defence lawyers declined to comment about the first hearing which was broadcast live on state television.

In the DR Congo, the Constitutional Court serves as the criminal tribunal for the president and the prime minister while in office.

© Agence France-Presse

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