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Bemba Witness Appears Before ICC Judge on Evidence Tampering Charges

Narcisse Arido, who had earlier been expected to testify in Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba’s trial, appeared before an International Criminal Court (ICC) judge today to answer to charges of witness tampering.

Mr. Arido said he was born in Bangui in the Central African Republic (CAR) and has been living in Cameroon since 2001. He described himself as a lawyer by profession and currently a “political refugee.”

Xavier-Jean Keita, who represented Mr. Arido, said “irregularities” had occurred following the suspect’s arrest by French authorities last November. He said his client was denied contact with his family for longer than a week. “This is not something that ICC law allows,” said Mr. Keita.

The lawyer also said three individuals claiming to be from the Office of the Prosecutor, rather than French authorities, searched and seized materials from Mr. Arido’s residence.

Prosecutors said those allegations were false and asked the defense to file written submissions with evidence supporting the claims.

Mr. Arido faces charges of corruptly influencing witnesses to present forged evidence in the war crimes trial of Mr. Bemba, who has denied command responsibility for the murder, rape, and pillaging allegedly committed by his soldiers.

Last November, arrest warrants were issued against Mr. Bemba and his then defense lawyers Aimé Kilolo-Musamba and Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo over the same charges. A fifth individual, Congolese senator Fidèle Babala Wandu, was also arrested and transferred to the court.

Prosecutors claim the two defense lawyers paid Mr. Arido to provide false or forged documents and that he was an intermediary in transferring money to witnesses.

Mr. Bemba, his two former lawyers and Mr. Wandu made their initial appearances before pre-trial judge Cuno Tarfusser late last year. They are being held at the ICC detention center.

In order to expedite the process leading to the confirmation of charges decision, Judge Tarfusser ordered prosecutors to disclose to Mr. Arido all the evidence against him that has been disclosed to the other suspects. He set Monday, March 24, as the deadline for the disclosure.