One of the two lead lawyers defending Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been arrested on charges of witness tampering. Aimé Kilolo-Musamba, who has been a leading member of the Congolese leader’s defense team since the start of his trial, was arrested in Belgium over the weekend.
A press release from the court stated that three other individuals were arrested on the same charges: Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, a member of Mr. Bemba’s defense team and case manager, Fidèle Babala Wandu, a member of the Congolese parliament and deputy secretary general of the Bemba-led Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), and Narcisse Arido, a defense witness in Mr. Bemba’s trial.
On November 20, 2013, Cuno Tarfusser, the single judge of Pre-Trial Chamber II, issued a warrant of arrest for the four officials and Mr. Bemba, after finding that there were reasonable grounds to believe that these persons were criminally responsible for the commission of offences against the administration of justice by corruptly influencing witnesses before the ICC and presenting evidence that they knew to be false or forged.
“The suspects, it is alleged, were part of a network for the purposes of presenting false or forged documents and bribing certain persons to give false testimony in the case against Mr Bemba,” said the court statement. The judge has requested various states to locate and freeze the suspects’ assets.
Mr. Kilolo-Musamba was arrested in Belgium, Mr. Kabongo in The Netherlands, and Mr. Arido in France. They will be surrendered to the ICC in accordance with judicial procedures applicable in the three countries. Mr. Wandu, who was arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was being transferred to The Hague and the date of his first appearance at the ICC would be announced shortly.
The court’s registrar, Herman von Hebel, expressed gratitude to the four countries’ authorities that carried out the arrests on November 23 and November 24. He stated that these are the first arrests made in relation to such charges before the ICC. Last month, an arrest warrant was issued against Walter Barasa, who is suspected of corruptly influencing prosecution witnesses in the trial of Kenyan vice president William Ruto. He remains at large.
Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a separate statement that her office alleged that Mr. Bemba “has ordered, solicited and induced these attempts to pervert the course of justice in relation to his on-going trial.”
Noting that those under arrest included members of Mr. Bemba’s defense team, the prosecutor said it was “particularly disturbing that a member of the legal profession is alleged to have intentionally and systematically participated in criminal activities aimed at undermining the administration of justice.”
According to Article 70 of the Rome Statute, it is a criminal offence for anyone to attempt to corruptly influence witnesses or tamper with evidence, or present evidence known to be false or forged. Those convicted may face up to five years imprisonment, a fine, or both.
Mr. Bemba has been on trial since November 2010 over charges that he failed to discipline his MLC fighters who allegedly committed rape, murder, and pillaging in the Central African Republic. The crimes were allegedly committed during 2002 and 2003.
Nkwebe Liriss, the lead counsel of Jean-Pierre Bemba’s defense team, died in February 2012, upon which Mr. Kilolo-Musamba became the lead counsel and Peter Haynes the co-counsel. While Mr. Liriss was away due to a long illness, Mr. Kilolo-Musamba had been leading the defense team.