A court in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has convicted Vital Kamerhe, the President’s chief of staff, of embezzlement and corruption.

Kamerhe was sentenced to 20 years hard labour and a large fine.

He was charged with participating in the theft of more than $50 million from infrastructure projects linked to the first 100 days of President Felix Tshisekedi’s tenure in 2019.

Kamerhe, who signed an agreement to support Tshisekedi in a 2018 election in the expectation of succeeding him in 2023, has denied all accusations of wrongdoing.

The 61-year-old has denounced the trial as a political attack by enemies of the President.

He is the most powerful politician to face graft charges in Congo. Kamerhe has been a powerful player in the country’s politics for more than 15 years. He helped lead former President Joseph Kabila’s first election campaign in 2006, after which he became National Assembly head.

Kamerhe is no longer eligible to run for the Presidency in 2023 due to Saturday’s conviction.