DR Congo ex-minister accused of $4.3 million embezzlement

ACCUSED. This file photo taken on March 9, 2019 shows then Congo's Health Minister Oly Ilunga visiting an Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC), which was attacked in the early hours of the morning, in Butembo. File photo by John Wessels/AFP

ACCUSED. This file photo taken on March 9, 2019 shows then Congo's Health Minister Oly Ilunga visiting an Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC), which was attacked in the early hours of the morning, in Butembo.

File photo by John Wessels/AFP

KINSHASA, DR Congo – Detained former DR Congo health minister Oly Ilunga has been accused of embezzling $4.3 million of public funds raised to tackle the Ebola epidemic, his defense counsel said Sunday, September 15, while insisting on his innocence.

"Police accuse him of having siphoned off a total of $4.3 million made available by the treasury to fight Ebola," lawyers Guy Kabeya and Willy Ngashi said in a statement.

Ilunga, who resigned as health minister in July after being removed as head of the country's Ebola response team, was arrested Saturday, September 14, in Kinshasa. 

Police have alleged he was planning to flee the country and escape justice, something his lawyers denied.

Kabeya and Ngashi said that "more than $1.9 million of the sum was paid out in a month following Dr Ilunga's resignation –  as such he can in no way be held accountable".

"As for the remaining $2.4 million... the accounts show that this sum was disbursed exclusively for the purpose of fighting the Ebola virus," they added in their statement.

Ilunga is due to be referred to a state prosecutor Monday, according to police.

Police spokesman Colonel Pierrot-Rombaut Mwanamputu told Agence France-Presse on Saturday that he is accused of "misdemeanours of the mismanagement of funds allocated to the Ebola response."

He was questioned in August as part of an inquiry into the management of funds to fight the outbreak, which has claimed more than 2,000 lives since August 2018.

The 59-year-old, who had already been banned from leaving the country, stepped down from his role after criticizing plans by the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) to introduce a new, unlicensed vaccine to fight the epidemic.

President Felix Tshisekedi had also stripped him of overall responsibility for tackling the outbreak and handed control to Jean-Jacques Muyembe, director of the DRC's National Institute for Biomedical Research.

The outbreak is the second-worst in history after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014 and 2016. – Rappler.com