DR Congo arrests former health minister over missing COVID funds

KINSHASA— The former Minister of Health of the Democratic Republic of Congo Eteni Longondo was placed Friday under provisional arrest for alleged misappropriation of funds allocated to the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, prison and government sources said.

“The former Minister of Public Health, Dr. Eteni Longondo, was questioned at length by the prosecutor at the Court of Cassation and placed under provisional arrest warrant this evening,” a member of the government said.

“Dr. Eteni has indeed arrived here at the Makala central prison on the basis of a provisional arrest warrant issued by the prosecutor’s office. We have installed him in pavilion 8,” a prison official said.

Eteni Longondo, Minister of Health from 2019 until last April, is accused of “misappropriation of public funds allocated to the response” against Covid-19, wrote on Twitter the Association for Access to Justice (ACAJ).

In August 2020, the General Inspectorate of Finance (IGF) had suspected the former minister Longondo of having embezzled more than 7 million dollars intended for the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic in the DRC, whose management is characterized by “the absence of supporting documents of expenses” made.

Longondo has always denied having embezzled this money, arguing that “these documents were in the process of being verified by his services” at the time of the audit. In November, he returned $721,900 to the public treasury, representing “the overpayment” and “the difference on the decontamination of the People’s Palace”, the seat of parliament, as well as a “double payment made by the Central Bank of Congo”.

Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi has made the fight against corruption one of the priorities of his term. Longondo is the first executive of the presidential party Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) to be arrested for embezzling public funds.

The former chief of staff to the Congolese leader, Vital Kamerhe, was sentenced to 13 years in prison for embezzling more than $50 million to build prefabricated houses for the military and police.