One of the main advisers to the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Felix Tshisekedi, is due to go on trial for corruption in an important case that shook the country's political establishment.
Vital Kamerhe, Tshisekedi's chief of staff, is accused of embezzling funds for a government infrastructure program. He has been in custody since April 8 and will be tried on Monday with two other defendants, a Lebanese businessman and another presidential official.
The 61-year-old, who made a pact to support Tshisekedi in a 2018 election, hoping to succeed him in 2023, denies any wrongdoing.
Once a pillar of the government of former President Joseph Kabila, Kamerhe is the leader of the influential Union of the Congolese Nation. He previously served as a parliamentary speaker and has has been at the heart of the DRC's political life for about 20 years.
His supporters say the case is politically motivated, a possible attempt to prevent him from running in the next presidential election. Kamerhe's arrest last month was met with protests in his home town of Bukavu, in eastern DRC, when some 300 supporters burned tires and blocked the road outside the party's headquarters.
"Never in the political history of Congo in the past two decades has such an important player on the political scene been placed behind bars," said the Congo Research Group (CSG) at New York University in an analysis.
Kamerhe, allegedly responsible for authorizing public spending, is accused of embezzling public funds to finance major works under a "100-day" emergency action plan launched by Tshisekedi after he took office in January last year.
The defendants were accused of embezzling nearly $ 49 million in funds for the construction of 4,500 prefabricated houses for poor people and reportedly withdrew another $ 2 million from a program to build housing for the police and military in the capital, Kinshasa.
Kamerhe, who has not resigned or been dismissed since he was charged, denies the charges against him, saying that all public sector contracts were "inherited" from previous governments.
Initially, the trial was expected to take place in the Kinshasa high court, but it is now taking place in the Makala prison complex, where Kamerhe has been in prison for more than a month.
The process will be broadcast to the nation on television.
The DRC, rich in resources, is one of the poorest countries in Africa. At least 63% of the country's more than 80 million people live on less than $ 2 a day, according to the United Nations.
Al Jazeera and news agencies