September 14, 2019 / 1:00 PM / 3 months ago

Congo police detain former health minister in Ebola probe

KINSHASA (Reuters) - A former Congolese health minister was taken into custody on Saturday over alleged mismanagement of funds for the country’s response to the Ebola epidemic, police said.

Oly Ilunga oversaw Democratic Republic of Congo’s handling of the outbreak, the second deadliest in history, for nearly a year. He was stripped by the presidency of that responsibility in July and resigned from the government days later.

Earlier in September, his lawyers said he had been questioned by police about his role managing the Ebola response. They denied any wrongdoing by Ilunga.

In a statement, the national police said Ilunga was detained because they believed he planned to evade legal proceedings by leaving the country.

“Unfortunately, police received information about his disappearance with a view to reaching Congo-Brazzaville,” the police’s press service said, referring to neighbouring Congo Republic.

It said Ilunga was in police custody and would come before a prosecutor on Sept. 16.

Ilunga’s lawyers denied he had planned to flee the country. “He strongly reaffirms his innocence in this case and vows to defend himself,” they said in a statement.

Foreign donors have provided more than $150 million in funding to the Ebola response over the past year, but the United Nations has said hundreds of millions of dollars more are needed.

The outbreak has so far killed over 2,000 people and infected 1,000 more. Only the 2013-16 epidemic in West Africa, which killed more than 11,300, was deadlier.

Reporting by Stanis Bujakera; Additional reporting by Fiston Mahamba; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Stephen Powell

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