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Judge Grants Prosecutor More Time to Prepare New Case Against Bemba

An International Criminal Court (ICC) pre-trial judge has granted the prosecution’s request for an extension of deadlines for confirmation of charges proceedings against Jean-Pierre Bemba and his four co-accused.

Judge Cuno Tarfusser ruled that prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s request was justified because of a delay of the final report by an independent counsel, who reviewed evidence from the accused individuals’ intercepted communications.

The judge said the independent counsel’s final report was complete but still under judicial review by Dutch authorities, who were unlikely to transmit it to the court before May 2014.

“The availability of the final report to the parties and to the court appears of essence to the determinations to be made by the chamber,” he said.

However, Judge Tarfusser said the prosecution’s wish to be trial-ready at the start of confirmation proceedings could not delay the confirmation phase. He said delaying the proceedings because of this reason would be tantamount to making the pre-trial phase a “mini trial, or a trial before the trial.”

Mr. Bemba, two lawyers who formerly represented him in his ongoing trial, and two other former aides, are accused of forging evidence and bribing witnesses.

The prosecution now has until May 30 to file the Document Containing the Charges (DCC) and the list of evidence. Parties to the trial will file their written submissions within a month from this date. The prosecution’s response to the defense is expected on July 7, while the defense will respond by July 14.

Earlier this month, Ms. Bensouda applied for a four month extension to the initial deadline of March 18 to file the DCC, in order to allow the prosecution to assemble sufficient evidence to enter the confirmation processes in a “trial ready” state. She said she had not yet accessed and analyzed evidence from devices seized from the suspects, while the independent counsel had not submitted a final report.

Nicholas Kaufman, who is representing Mr. Bemba, opposed the prosecution’s application, saying the request showed the prosecutor did not believe she had sufficient evidence to make a “substantial” case against Mr. Bemba.

As a result, he said, the prosecutor would “attempt to exploit any extension granted in a vain attempt to ‘fish’ for evidence to bolster what the defense alleges to be her mistaken suspicions.”

Judge Tarfusser also dismissed the prosecution’s claim that it had not had sufficient time to review electronic material seized from the suspects.

“The prosecutor has had ample opportunity to review the majority of the materials made available to her and to promptly raise any issue she might have with it, including of a technical nature or in relation to her lack of access to documents concerning the forensic acquisition process,” he said.