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Judges Reject Prosecution Bid to Submit Witness Tampering Evidence against Bemba

Evidence relating to alleged witness tampering by Jean-Pierre Bemba will not be admitted into the case record of his ongoing war crimes trial. Trial judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have ruled that admitting that material is not appropriate at the current stage of proceedings.

In an April 2, 2014 order, judges Sylvia Steiner, Joyce Aluoch, and Kuniko Ozaki said the evidence, including an audio recording, a report, and a financial chart, were part of material in a separate case brought before the ICC.

“The chamber does not consider it in the interest of justice for matters which may be central to the charges before the pre-trial chamber to be litigated in parallel before the trial chamber,” the judges ruled. They added lengthy delays could arise in such circumstances and this would hinder the fair and expeditious conduct of proceedings against Mr. Bemba.

On November 29, 2013, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked judges for permission to submit evidence of witness coaching and bribery by Mr. Bemba and two of his former lawyers. She argued that the additional evidence could not have been submitted previously because it only came to her attention during the defense case and investigations were underway to ascertain its veracity.

Ms. Bensouda said prior disclosure would have resulted in jeopardizing ongoing investigations.  She added that the “unique” and “compelling” evidence, which showed payments by Mr. Bemba’s former lawyers – Aimé Kilolo-Musamba and Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo – as well as their associates, had a significant bearing on the case because it affected the credibility of 14 defense witnesses.

In the ruling, trial judges dismissed prosecution claims that the evidence could not have been submitted earlier because part of the relevant material was in the prosecution’s possession before the expiry of the deadline for submitting evidence.

The judges added that while the remaining material was not available before the deadline, investigations appeared to have been ongoing for a considerable period of time. The prosecution should therefore have been aware of the possibility of obtaining the material in the future and asked judges for an extension of time prior to the expiry of the November 8, 2013 deadline.

Furthermore, the judges noted that the material in question was related to the credibility of defense witnesses, “each of whom the prosecution had the opportunity to question at the time they testified.”

Mr. Bemba’s lawyers had objected to the prosecution’s application. They contended that accepting the additional evidence into the case record would impact the fairness and expeditiousness of the trial because the defense team would need to conduct further investigations and recall the 14 witnesses whose testimony was affected.

The defense also argued that Ms. Bensouda did not provide details of the content of the materials, how they were obtained, and their relevance to the testimony of defense witnesses. In addition, the prosecutor had not disclosed the identities of the specific witnesses and the link between the evidence and the charges against Mr. Bemba. As such, it was “impossible to verify the probative value of the evidence in such an information vacuum.”

Mr. Bemba has been on trial at the ICC since November 2010. He denies murder, rape, and pillaging charges stemming from his alleged failure to rein in his troops who purportedly brutalized civilians in the Central African Republic during 2002-2003.