International Criminal Court (ICC) investigators tapped phone calls and intercepted emails between Jean-Pierre Bemba and his lawyers, according to an arrest warrant published by the court.
The interceptions showed that Mr. Bemba ran a “criminal scheme” from his detention cell in The Hague. They also showed that the Congolese opposition leader was speaking to witnesses and authorizing payments to them.
Pre-trial judge Cuno Tarfusser, who authorized the interceptions, last November issued arrest warrants for Mr. Bemba, his lead counsel Aimé Kilolo-Musamba, and case manager Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo. Arrest warrants were also issued for Narcisse Arido, a defense witness, and Fidèle Babala Wandu, a member of the Congolese parliament.
The four suspects were arrested on November 23 and 24, 2013 by authorities in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
According to the arrest warrant, Mr. Bemba approved amounts and recipients of funds in a scheme aimed to bribe witnesses and present false and forged evidence. He was also accused of circumventing the telephone monitoring system at the ICC detention center by speaking to witnesses and associates using “codes” or through his lawyers’ telephone numbers “so that the conversations are privileged.”
In the November 19, 2013 application for the arrest warrants, prosecutors submitted evidence of money transfers through international services, particularly Western Union and Express Union, as well as telephone call records, transcripts, translations and summaries of recorded communications, text messages, witness statements and e-mails.
“There are reasonable grounds to believe that as of early 2012 and thenceforth, a criminal scheme has been affording benefits and advantages to certain defense witnesses in exchange for false testimony and the presentation of false or forged evidence,” reads the warrant issued by Judge Tarfusser on November 20.
Investigations into the alleged crimes started on May 3, 2013 when the prosecution requested Judge Tarfusser to order the court’s registry to disclose information about Mr. Bemba’s telephone communications at the detention center. The judge granted the request on May 27, 2013. Two months later, the judge authorized the interception of calls placed or received by Mr. Kilolo and Mr. Kabongo, with the aid of Dutch and Belgian authorities.
In August, an unnamed independent counsel was appointed to review the two defense lawyers’ telephone logs and listen to recordings of their calls. The independent counsel filed his first report on October 25. In the same month, the court’s Victims and Witnesses Unit was ordered to provide to the prosecutor undisclosed information on defense witnesses. A second independent counsel report was filed on November 14.
Judge Tarfusser ruled that the independent counsel’s report contained “a considerable and indeed quite remarkable quantity of items of evidence which furnish objective and incriminating information and details pertaining directly and specifically to the Prosecutor’s factual allegations.”
According to the evidence, in addition to making payments to defense witnesses, Mr. Kilolo tendered into evidence at least 14 documents which he knew to be false or forged. Furthermore, he allegedly contacted several defense witnesses before, during and after their appearance before the ICC to explain “which questions would be put to them and the responses they should give.”
Prosecutors also alleged that Mr. Kabongo assisted Mr. Bemba and Mr. Kilolo by “frequently” receiving money via Western Union, coaching witnesses and devising instructions to be issued to the witnesses. He also allegedly took part in privileged calls between Mr. Bemba and Mr. Wandu, a long time associate of Mr. Bemba who was accused of “directly or indirectly” disbursing money to defense witnesses and members of their families.
Prosecutors also charged that defense lawyers paid Mr. Arido to provide false or forged documents and that he was an intermediary in transferring money to witnesses.
Judge Tarfusser stated that apprehending the accused individuals would ensure their appearance at trial and deter them from obstructing or endangering the proceedings. It would also prevent the commission of further crimes.
The judge said evidence showed that despite his detention, Mr. Bemba continued to maintain international political connections and he could mobilize financial resources so as to prevent his prosecution or that of his associates. The judge added that the two defense lawyers and Mr. Wandu possessed travel documents that could enable them to flee the court’s jurisdiction.
Regarding Mr. Arido, the judge stated that he failed to appear before the court for his scheduled testimony, “and given that the visa, secured for this sole purpose with the court’s assistance, was misused by him to travel to France, he has already shown that the likelihood of his voluntary appearance before the Court is slim, if not non-existent.”
Mr. Arido is believed to be ‘Witness D04-11’ who was due to testify in September 2012 but did not board the flight booked for him to The Hague.
The arrest warrant also authorized the search and seizure of relevant items from Mr. Bemba’s cell and the homes and workplaces of the other suspects. Authorities were also requested to locate and freeze all the individuals’ assets.
Mr. Bemba has been in ICC detention since July 2008. He is charged with failure to rein in his Movement for the Liberation of Congo troops as they brutalized civilians in the Central African Republic during a conflict in 2002 and 2003. He has pleaded not guilty in the trial which commenced in November 2010.
Besides Mr. Arido, the other suspects in the new case are being held at the Scheveningen detention center and have made initial appearances before the court. A series of status conferences are scheduled to take place until May 2014 for the filing of evidence and other submissions by the prosecution and the defense. Thereafter, Judge Tarfusser shall render a written decision on the confirmation of charges.