Special Court for Sierra Leone judges have issued orders for two seperate contempt proceedings to be held in respect of allegations that several individuals have attempted to contact prosecution witnesses with bribes for them to recant their evidence against accused or convicted persons.
The first contempt proceedings relate to allegations that persons acting on behalf of the defense for Charles Taylor attempted to bribe several prosecution witnesses, including those with protective measures for them to recant their evidence against the former Liberian president who is on trial for allegedly controlling and providing support to rebel forces in Sierra Leone. Prosecutors say that Mr. Taylor is responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of Sierra Leone from November 1996 to January 2002. Mr. Taylor has denied the allegations against him.
The second contempt proceedings relate to allegations that convicted members of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) who are now serving jail terms in a Rwandan jail personally attempted to contact protected witnesses by phone while at the same time disclosing the identities of said protected witnesses to agents in Freetown with instructions to offer the witnesses bribes to recant their evidence against them. Two AFRC convicts, Ibrahim Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu, aka 55, both of whom are serving jail terms in Rwanda, and two former members of the AFRC, Hassan Papa Bangura, aka Bomblast and Samuel Kargbo, aka Sammy Ragga, both of whom reside in Sierra Leone are alleged to have breached such protective measures for witnesses. The AFRC were a group of Sierra Leonean soldiers who overthrew the democratic government of Sierra Leone in May 1997. The AFRC teamed up with RUF rebels to establish a junta government which ruled Sierra Leone until they were forcefully removed from power by West African peacekeepers in 1998.
On February 25 2011, Prosecutors filed a motion in which they alleged that former investigator for Mr. Taylor’s defense team, Prince Taylor and Eric Senesie, a former member of Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the rebel group which Mr. Taylor is on trial for allegedly supporting, attempted to bribe prosecution witnesses, including protected witnesses who had testified against Mr. Taylor for them to recant their testimonies against the former Liberian President. The Trial Chamber judges granted the Prosecution’s request and directed the Registrar of the Court to appoint an independent counsel to investigate whether the allegations were true. The Registrar appointed William L. Gardner as independent counsel on March 18 2011.
On April 21 2011, the independent counsel submitted a report of his findings in which he concluded that while there was insufficient evidence to proceed in contempt against Mr. Prince Taylor, “there are sufficient grounds to proceed against Eric Senessie for contempt of Court.”
The Trial Chamber therefore ordered that an “Order in lieu of Indictment” be issued against Mr. Senessie and directed the independent counsel to prosecute Mr. Senessie pursuant to said indictment.
In the said indictment, Mr. Senessie is alleged to have offered bribes to Prosecution witnesses Mohamed Kabbah, Dauda Aruna Fornie, protected witnesses TF1-516, TF1-585 and Aruna Gbonda all of whom testified against Mr. Taylor in The Hague. It is alleged that Mr. Senessie tried to influence these witnesses to recant their testimonies against Mr. Taylor.
In the case of the AFRC convicts serving jail terms in Rwanda and former AFRC commanders in Freetown, the Trial Chamber on March 18 2011 issued a decision in which the judges directed the Registrar to appoint an independent counsel to investigate allegations that convicted persons Mr. Kamara and Mr. Kanu, together with former AFRC members Ragga and Bomblast had attempted to influence a protected witness who had testified in the AFRC trials before the Special Court for Sierra Leone in order to have him recant his evidence.
The Registrar appointed Robert L. Herbst as independent counsel on March 23 2011. On May 11 2011, the independent counsel submitted a report of his findings.
In his report, the independent counsel submitted that there are sufficient grounds to believe that all four persons had indeed breached protective measures for witnesses by contacting a protected witness asking him to recant his evidence.
The Judges therefore ordered that an indictment for contempt be issued against all four persons and that the independent counsel prosecute them pursuant to said indictment. In the said indictment, all four persons are accused of trying to influence Protected Witness TF1-334 who testified against the AFRC convicts before Special Court for Sierra Leone judges in Freetown.
It is not yet clear where the contempt proceedings will be held but it is a possibility that the AFRC convicts Kamara and Kanu will be made to leave their Rwandan jail for a temporary period to attend said proceedings if they are held at a place outside Rwanda.
Justice Teresa Doherty, a judge of the Trial Chamber hearing Mr. Taylor’s trial has been assigned as designated judge for both contempt proceedings.