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18.09.2019 Congo

DR Congo ex-health minister charged with embezzlement: lawyer

By AFP
Former health minister Oly Ilunga of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been formally charged with embezzling funds alloted for the fight against Ebola.  By FABRICE COFFRINI (AFP/File)
SEP 18, 2019 CONGO
Former health minister Oly Ilunga of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been formally charged with embezzling funds alloted for the fight against Ebola. By FABRICE COFFRINI (AFP/File)

Former health minister Oly Ilunga of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been charged with embezzling funds allotted for the fight against the deadly Ebola virus, his lawyer told AFP Tuesday.

"The magistrate told him that he was charged with embezzlement. As a former minister, he could not be placed in detention," said the lawyer, Guy Kabyea, adding that Ilunga was being held under house arrest.

The ex-health minister, who resigned on July 22, has been accused of embezzling $4.3 million in funds made available to him to fight the Ebola epidemic, which has claimed more than 2,000 lives in the east of the country since August 2018.

Police had questioned Ilunga on Saturday, suspecting him of planning to leave the DRC via neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville. He had been banned from leaving the country a few days after his first interrogation in late August.

Ilunga's lawyers have rejected the embezzlement claim, saying accounts prove that public funds were used "exclusively" for the anti-Ebola battle.

Ilunga, 59, stepped down from his role after criticising plans by the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) to introduce a new, unlicenced 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.

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