Oly Ilunga, a former Democratic Republic of Congo health minister, was taken into custody and questioned on
Saturday under suspicion of embezzling public funds allocated to tackling the country’s Ebola outbreak.
Police accused Ilunga, who was banned from leaving the country on Aug. 30, of planning to flee Congo for the
neighboring Republic of Congo, his lawyers, Guy Kabeya and Willy Ngashi, said in a statement late on Saturday. Accused of having embezzled about $4.3 million of public funds, he was arrested, interrogated and then placed into custody, they said.
“He reaffirms his innocence in this affair and promises to defend himself with the most extreme energy,” the lawyers said in their statement. Ilunga has made no effort to leave the country, they said.
A medical doctor, Ilunga oversaw government efforts to control the virus, which has killed more than 2,000 people in the eastern part of the country and risks spreading to neighboring countries, until his resignation in July. He stepped down in protest at being sidelined by President Felix Tshisekedi, who took direct control of the response. Ilunga says of the $4.3 million in question that $1.9 million was disbursed
after he had resigned and the rest of the money was used exclusively for the Ebola response.
Ilunga was previously questioned by a panel of three judicial officials about money disbursed by his ministry to
traditional chiefs and bonuses paid to Ebola response team workers, he said earlier this month. He will now be transferred to the prosecutor at the Court of Cassation in Kinshasa on Monday, according to a statement from police spokesman Pierrot Mwanamputu.
The current Ebola outbreak is the second-deadliest ever after the 2013-2016 epidemic in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people. The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak an international public health emergency.
Ebola is a contagious virus that can cause massive internal bleeding from multi-organ failure and shock. About half of infected people die.