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Schedule on Confirmation of New Charges Against Bemba Pushed Back

The schedule for confirmation of charges proceedings against Jean-Pierre Bemba and his four co-accused has been further extended due to the late submission of an independent counsel’s report on the intercepted communications of the suspects.

“Since the independent Counsel’s third and final report was made available to the parties almost four weeks later than expected, at the time of the first amendment decision, it is appropriate that the calendar for the confirmation of charges in writing be accordingly amended,” Judge Cuno Tarfusser ruled on May 28.

International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors now have until June 30 to file the document containing the charges (DCC) and lists of evidence against the Congolese politician, two lawyers who formerly represented him in his ongoing war crimes trial, and two other aides. They are accused of forging evidence and bribing witnesses.

The initial deadline to file the DCC was March 18, 2014. However, prosecutor Fatou Bensouda applied for a four month extension to allow her time to assemble more evidence. Ms. Bensouda argued that she had not yet accessed material on several seized electronic devices, which remained in the custody of Dutch authorities. Furthermore, she said the final independent counsel’s report had not yet been submitted to the chamber.

Nicholas Kaufman, Mr. Bemba’s defense lawyer in the new case, opposed the prosecution’s application. He stated that the prosecutor was seeking more time in “a vain attempt to ‘fish’ for evidence to bolster what the defense alleges to be her mistaken suspicions.”

On March 14, Judge Tarfusser partially granted the prosecutor’s request and postponed the deadline to May 30. The single judge of Pre-Trial Chamber II considered that the availability of the independent counsel’s final report to the parties and to the court was of “essence to the determinations to be made by the chamber.”

At the time, the report was expected to be transmitted in early May but it was not made available to the parties until May 26, 2014.

According to the amended calendar, upon the prosecution’s submission of the DCC, the defense teams will have until July 15 to file their lists of evidence. Both the prosecutor and the defense teams have until July 30 to file their written submissions. The prosecution’s response to the defense submissions is expected by August 7 while the defense teams will respond by August 14. Thereafter, the single judge is expected to render a written decision on whether or not the case goes to trial.

Last November, arrest warrants were issued against Mr. Bemba and his then defense lawyers Aimé Kilolo-Musamba and Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo on charges of corruptly influencing witnesses to presented forged evidence before the ICC. Fidèle Babala Wandu, a Congolese Senator, and Narcisse Arido, a defense witness, were arrested over the same charges. All five individuals are in court custody.