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Court Told ICC Prosecutors’ Agent Coached Witnesses

The role allegedly played by intermediaries of International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecution investigators in corrupting evidence remained in focus this week in the war crimes trial of Thomas Lubanga.

One witness testified at length about receiving money from an intermediary who also allegedly coached him on what to tell prosecution investigators. Another witness gave testimony presumably about a former prosecution witness who briefly took the witness stand last June and then turned around to state that an intermediary had made him tell lies to investigators.

The former prosecution witness is expected back in court next week to give fresh testimony relating to the falsehoods he confessed to having told investigators, and the intermediary that purportedly concocted the lies he told the investigators.

Previous defense witnesses have testified that intermediaries bribed people who then claimed to ICC prosecution investigators that they were former child soldiers in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), the group Mr. Lubanga is alleged to have led.

Mr. Lubanga’s defense contends that many of the coached witnesses went on to testify for the prosecution, and is calling its own witnesses to provide testimony as to how the intermediaries went about with forging evidence.

Three defense witnesses testified this week, bringing the total number of those who have testified for Mr. Lubanga to nine. At the opening of the defense case on January 27, 2010, lead defense counsel Catherine Mabille said they intended to call 16 witnesses to testify about the alleged corruption of evidence, and then ask judges to consider throwing out the case on the grounds of abuse of process.

On Monday, a former fighter in UPC gave testimony in which he told the court that he voluntarily joined the armed group. He said because there was fighting in the Bunia area, a group of youngsters that included him had nowhere to go so they volunteered to join the militia group.

This witness, the seventh to appear for the defense, said he subsequently served as the bodyguard of a brother to Bosco Ntaganda, who was reportedly the deputy chief of staff of the UPC’s armed militia. He testified in full public view, although parts of his testimony were in closed session.

The defense has charged that none of the nine prosecution witnesses who claimed having been child soldiers in UPC actually were. The defense has also denied that Mr. Lubanga was in charge of the military affairs of the UPC’s armed militia.

Mr. Lubanga is on trial at the ICC over the use of child soldiers in inter-ethnic conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo during 2002 and 2003. 

The only defense witness who testified anonymously this week claimed he received money from an intermediary referred to as ‘Mr. X’ in return for lying to ICC investigators that he had served as a child soldier in UPC. The witness stated that ‘Mr. X’ asked him to convince other people in Bunia to lie to ICC prosecution investigators that they had served as UPC child soldiers.

But prosecutors dismissed this witness as a liar and a self-seeker whose testimony could not be believed.

“You have lied to the Office of The Prosecutor (OTP) for the last four years. You cannot be believed now,” prosecutor Manoj Sachdeva told the witness.

The witness denied that he had told any lies in court, where he testified for three days.

But Sachdeva pointed out that since the first interview the witness had with OTP investigators in 2005 in Kampala, Uganda, through to other interviews in Congo in 2007, “not once did you tell the OTP that you had lied to them.”

The witness agreed with Sachdeva’s assertion that ICC prosecution investigators interviewed him for six days when he and an OTP intermediary referred to as “Mr. X’ visited Kampala in September 2005.

The witness also confessed that ‘Mr. X’ did not attend any of the interview sessions he had with investigators in Kampala. He added, however, that every evening ‘Mr. X’ coached him on what to tell the investigators the next day.

Defense counsel Jean-Marie Biju-Duval showed the witness three receipts and asked him whether he recognized the signatures on them. The witness said he recalled signing those receipts when ‘Mr. X’ gave him money while they were in Kampala for meetings with OTP investigators.

“Do you remember having received this sum of money – $400?” asked Mr. Biju-Duval.

“I was not given this sum in one swoop. I was not given it on one day,” replied the witness.

According to the receipt, the $400 was a “reimbursement of services provided and expenses incurred”.

Other receipts with signatures which the witness recognized as his indicated that he had received $700, $30 and $10 at various times. The witness said he did not recall the precise amounts he received on different occasions.

The witness said he quit the scheme after he was threatened by former UPC soldiers and after his own family rebuked him when they found out that he was part of the alleged conspiracy against Mr. Lubanga.

The trial resumes on Monday.