A day after his initial appearance over fresh charges of presenting forged evidence and “ordering, soliciting or inducing his associates to pay money to court witnesses,” Jean-Pierre Bemba was back in the court room to discuss how the new charges and the arrest of two senior members of his defense team would affect his ongoing trial.
Last weekend, authorities in Belgium arrested Aimé Kilolo-Musamba, the lead counsel for Mr. Bemba, while Dutch authorities apprehended Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, his case manager.
At the time of these arrests, the defense had just completed presenting its evidence and started compiling its closing statement. Besides senior members of his defense team becoming accused persons themselves, the duo that is now in charge of Mr. Bemba’s defense could themselves be called by the suspects or by judges, as witnesses in the new case.
At a status conference today, the prosecution stated that it did not intend to call Peter Haynes – formerly the co-counsel, and now proposed head of Mr. Bemba’s defense, and Kate Gibson, the probable defense co-counsel.
Prosecutors said their investigations concluded that Mr. Haynes and Ms. Gibson were “not involved” in the alleged witness tampering and evidence forgery.
However, they said there was potential conflict of interest in the proposed defense team if it was found that Mr. Haynes knew about or had information on the alleged crimes but took no action.
Prosecutors said Mr. Bemba may solve the potential conflict of interest with a waiver, but it was important to inform him of the situation “and he be able to decide whether, regardless of this, he wishes to retain Mr. Haynes and Ms. Gibson.”
The new defense team has other things to worry about. When Mr. Kilolo-Musamba was arrested at an airport in Brussels, ICC officials confiscated his iPad and Blackberry phone, which, the attorneys claim, contained “the entire defense strategy.”
In court on Thursday, Mr. Bemba could not confirm who would lead his defense. “Given the upheavals that took place, I did not have the opportunity to discuss this with Mr. Kilolo,” he said. “I do not think it would be honorable or appropriate to take this decision today without having discussed with him.”
Talking to his now-incarcerated defense lead before informing judges of the composition of the new team was the “humane thing” to do, he said. However, according to Marc Dubuisson, the ICC director of court services, Mr. Bemba and Mr. Kilolo-Musamba were until this morning not allowed to speak to each other. This was because prosecutors had asked judges not to allow the four suspects to speak to each other before they completed interviewing each of them separately.
Sylvia Steiner, the presiding judge in Mr. Bemba’s ongoing trial, stated that the accused had a right to be represented by counsel of his choice, and it was important he communicated with Mr. Kilolo-Musamba before taking any action. “As soon as a decision is made, Mr. Bemba should notify the chamber on the new powers of attorney,” said Judge Steiner.
Also arrested over the weekend of November 23 were Fidèle Babala Wandu, a member of the Congolese Parliament, and Narcisse Arido, who testified for Mr. Bemba.
A similar warrant was also served on Mr. Bemba at the Scheveningen detention center where he has been detained since July 2008. Mr. Kilolo-Musamba waived his right to national proceedings and was promptly transferred to the same detention center on November 25.
For six and a half years, the former vice president of Congo has been detained in The Hague because – prosecutors say – he failed to discipline his soldiers who allegedly raped, murdered, and pillaged.
Mr. Bemba denies that his troops brutalized civilians in the Central African Republic during an armed conflict in 2002 and 2003. During his trial, which opened in November 2010, 40 witnesses testified for the prosecution, 34 for the defense and one individual testified at the invitation of judges.