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Hearing of Recalled Prosecution Witness in Bemba Trial Postponed

The hearing scheduled for this week to consider additional evidence from a witness who previously testified for the prosecution in Jean-Pierre Bemba’s trial has been cancelled due to undisclosed logistical reasons.

‘Witness 169’ was recalled by International Criminal Court (ICC) judges to testify about allegations of collusion between prosecution witnesses and the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP). It is alleged that the OTP made payments to witnesses in exchange for their testimony. The witness had been scheduled to testify at the seat of the court on October 14 and 15. However, court officials said today that logistical difficulties had prompted the postponement of the hearing. New dates would be confirmed in due course.

On October 2, 2014, judges issued a notice temporarily reopening the presentation of evidence in the trial to hear evidence from ‘Witness 169,’ who testified for the prosecution in July 2011. The order came after the disclosure of several letters the witness sent to the OTP and the court’s Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU). In these letters, he refers to outstanding payment claims and “money promised by the prosecutor for witnesses.”

A heavily redacted order by the judges indicates that the letters date back from 2011 through to 2014. In the most recent letter sent on August 5, 2014, ‘Witness 169’ reportedly stated that he possessed evidence of corruption and ill-treatment of prosecution witnesses. He also reportedly mentioned “money transferred by the ICC prosecution for the benefit of witnesses.”

Last December, judges rejected a defense request to recall ‘Witness 169.’ However, in light of the August 2014 letter, the judges considered that “exceptional circumstances” warranted his recall as a chamber witness.  They noted “in particular, the witness’s purported claims that he has information on the subordination and ill treatment of relevant witnesses.”

In the order recalling the witness, judges directed the court’s registry to make the necessary arrangements for his testimony at the seat of the court as of October 14. In the event of logistical difficulties that prevented the witness from travelling, considerations were to be made to hear his testimony remotely by way of video link.

Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been on trial at the ICC since November 2010. He is charged with failure to control or punish his Movement for the Liberation of Congo troops who alleged committed murder, rape, and pillaging against civilians in the Central African Republic during 2002 and 2003. He has pleaded not guilty to all five charges against him.

The last defense witness testified last November and closing oral arguments are scheduled for next month. The trial is being heard by Judges Sylvia Steiner (presiding), Kuniko Ozaki, and Joyce Aluoch.