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Belgian businessman convicted in 14-year-old DRC murder mystery

Laurent-Désiré Kabila in 1997 in Kisangani Stephen Ferry/Getty Images

A Belgian businessman has been sentenced to 20 years in jail in his absence for the murder in France of two Congolese in an apparent attempt to wipe out plotters of a coup against former president Laurent-Désiré Kabila 14 years ago.

A court in Grenoble in the French Alps sentenced Belgian entrepreneur Benoit Chatel to 20 years in jail for his role in the killing of Philémon Mwami Naluhwindja and Aimé-Noël Atembina, whose bodies were found in a blazing car in a field of maize on 29 December 2000 near the central city of Lyon.

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But interior decorator Alain Deverini, a Monaco national, was acquitted, the prosecutor declaring that he was only “an accomplice of an accomplice”, his defence having pleaded that convicting him would be like blaming a second-class passenger for the sinking of the Titanic.

A third man, Italian Domenico Cocco, is to face trial at a later date.

The three were accused of plotting the murder because they believed that Atembina, who had been a military advisor to former president Mobuto Sese Seko, who was toppled by Kabila, and Mobutu-era general Kpama Baramoto Kata, were plotting a coup.

Atembina, a tribal leader from the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo who was not an opponent of Kabila, is believed to have been killed by mistake because he took Kata’s place in the car.

Chatel was “entirely responsible, totally guilty of this double murder committed in appaling conditions”, prosecutor Patrick Quincy told the court.

But Deverini, who is said to have asked Cocco to “get rid of the blacks’ problem”, pleaded naivety and ignorance of what was really going on and was let off.

The victims’ families were furious that Chatel, a dubious character who is said to have been an informer to the French and Congolese secret services, was not brought to the bar.

Altghough there have been reports that he is dead and despite a legal ban on travel, he has been spotted in Lubumbashi in the south-east DRC, according to the lawyer of one plaintiff, Philippe Chansay-Wilmotte, who is also an advisor to current DRC President Jospeh Kabila, Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s son.

The defence alleged that Mwami was involved in uranium smuggling and claimed that secret services were mixed up in the case.