2018-Vital Kamerhe, flanked by Felix Tshisekedi, address a news conference ahead of the Presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Nairobi-PHOTO-REUTERS

The ex-chief of staff of Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi was convicted of embezzlement and corruption and sentenced to 20 years of forced labor.

Vital Kamerhe was found guilty of participating in the theft of more than $50 million from infrastructure projects linked to the first 100 days of Tshisekedi’s tenure.

His supporters say the trial was a political attack by enemies of the president and a political move designed to prevent him from standing for the top office.

The 61-old has been a powerful player in the country’s politics for more than 15 years but he is no longer eligible to run due to the conviction.

“Kabila and Tshisekedi always saw Vital Kamerhe as an important political rival,” Stephanie Wolters, a senior research fellow at the South African Institute of International Affairs told Bloomberg

Anti-corruption activists have praised the verdict calling it a positive sign for the fight against corruption.

His lawyers have said they will appeal the decision.