The International Criminal Court (ICC) has initiated its first bribery case with the unsealing of a two month old arrest warrant for a Kenyan journalist against whom allegations of bribery of witnesses have been made.
Pre-Trial Chamber II authorized on Wednesday the unsealing of the arrest warrant for Walter Osapiri Barasa, who is facing three counts of bribing or attempting to bribe three witnesses in the case of Deputy President William Samoei Ruto and former radio journalist Joshua arap Sang. This is the first time that anyone is being sought by the ICC to answer allegations of trying to bribe witnesses. The prosecution has made allegations over the past two years that there have been attempts to intimidate, threaten, or bribe witnesses, but this is the first time it has made a case before a judge.
According to the charges the prosecution drew up, Barasa is alleged to have offered two of the witnesses, and a third witness and her spouse, between one million Kenyan shillings and one and a half million shillings each for them to withdraw from testifying in the ICC case. The prosecution alleged that these offers of bribes were made between May 20 and July 25 this year at or near Kampala, Uganda. The prosecution applied for the arrest warrant on July 30 and Judge Cuno Tarfusser of Pre-Trial Chamber II granted it on August 2, under seal.
One of the witnesses that Barasa is alleged to have tried to bribe is currently testifying in the trial. The witness’ testimony is being heard in private session where she can only be seen by the judges, Ruto, Sang, their lawyers, the prosecution team, the lawyer for victims and court officials. The judges of Trial Chamber V(a) prevented the witness, who is only identified as prosecution witness 536, from further testifying in public when attempts were made to reveal her identity online after her first day on the stand. The judges concluded that the protective measures the court had taken, which included a screen hiding her from the public gallery and voice alternation, were not enough, and now her testimony is only heard in private session.
Barasa has denied to several media outlets that he was involved in any attempts to bribe witnesses. In a statement he said that his first contact with an ICC official was when an ICC investigator got in touch with him in December last year. He said he remained in contact with that investigator until March this year. Barasa said that the investigator in question then contacted him again in September. He said that between December and March he acted as an intermediary for the ICC, helping the investigator clarify the statement of witness 536. Barasa claimed that witness 536 had been coached by the investigator to exaggerate her testimony. The unsealed arrest warrant does describe Barasa as a former intermediary for the prosecution.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told journalists in The Hague on Wednesday that attempts were made to arrest Barasa in a third country, but they were unsuccessful. She declined to name the country where the arrest was attempted. She claimed that Barasa is part of a network of individuals who have been attempting to interfere with prosecution witnesses. Bensouda said that she did not how many they were or who they were because they went to great lengths to hide their identity. She said that the prosecution team had considered whether to ask Barasa be summoned to appear before the court, but they concluded it was better to apply for an arrest warrant.
“I believe that sending this warrant to Kenya now is an opportunity for Kenya, for Kenyan government to demonstrate the cooperation which they say they have been giving to the ICC,” Bensouda said.
In the past Bensouda has stated in court filings and outside court that Kenya has not fully cooperated with her office. Kenya has repeatedly denied this and Attorney General Githu Muigai has gone to the extent of filing submissions with trial judges to detail the cooperation the government has extended the court.