(Bloomberg) --

A Democratic Republic of Congo prosecutor accused President Felix Tshisekedi’s chief of staff of embezzling more than $52 million in one of the nation’s highest-profile corruption trials.

The charges against Vital Kamerhe, 61, stem from an investigation into infrastructure contracts signed during the first 100 days of Tshisekedi’s tenure last year. In a hearing that was broadcast across the nation, Kamerhe denied all accusations of corruption and said the construction projects were still in progress.

“I don’t touch the money,” Kamerhe told a court set up outdoors in the main prison in the capital, Kinshasa, to adhere to social distancing guidelines due to Covid-19. “I intervened in the name of the president of the republic so that these projects would get done and we could respond to the pressing needs of the Congolese people.”

Kamerhe, from Congo’s eastern province of South Kivu, has been a powerful player in the country’s politics for more than 15 years. He helped lead former President Joseph Kabila’s first presidential campaign in 2006, after which he became president of the National Assembly. Kamerhe broke with Kabila over the latter’s handling of the conflict in eastern Congo in 2009. He then ran for president against his former boss in 2011, finishing third.

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He became Tshisekedi’s chief of staff after the two men brokered an agreement in 2018 that was supposed to let Kamerhe run for president in 2023. If convicted he would no longer be eligible to run for the office.

Kamerhe is accused of embezzlement along with 78-year-old Lebanese businessman Jammal Samih and another adviser to Tshisekedi, Jeannot Muhima, 50. Samih is also accused of money laundering and corruption of a public official. Both men have also denied wrongdoing.

The next hearing is set for May 25 so the defense can review the state’s evidence.

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