May 27, 2020 / 1:31 PM / in a month

Judge in graft trial of Congo president's chief of staff dies

KINSHASA, May 27 (Reuters) - The high court magistrate overseeing a landmark corruption trial of the Congo president’s chief of staff died of a heart attack overnight in the capital Kinshasa, police said on Wednesday, ruling out suggestions of foul play.

Raphaël Yanyi was dead when he arrived at hospital in the early hours of Wednesday, said Sylvano Kasongo, Kinshasa police chief.

“It wasn’t a death by assassination, he had policemen protecting him,” Kasongo told Reuters, adding that the judge had suffered a heart attack at home.

A member of Yanyi’s family said he had complained of discomfort on Tuesday evening, but was not ill.

On Monday, Yanyi presided over the second day of a trial of Vital Kamerhe, once a close strategic ally of President Felix Tshisekedi, who has become the most powerful politician to face graft charges in Congo. He adjourned the trial until June 3.

Kamerhe has denied all wrongdoing in relation to the alleged embezzlement of more than $50 million of public funds. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

Kamerhe’s supporters say the charges are politically motivated, aimed at blocking his chances of challenging Tshisekedi at the next elections in 2023.

Activist group LUCHA called for an independent investigation into the cause of Yanyi’s death. (Reporting by Stanis Bujakera; writing by Hereward Holland Editing by Bate Felix and Nick Macfie)

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