An International Criminal Court (ICC) judge has ordered the release of the former head of Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba’s defense team, Aimé Kilolo Musamba, and former case manager Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo.
The lawyers, who have been in detention in The Hague for nearly a year, were arrested following accusations of corruptly influencing witnesses and presenting forged evidence before the court.
Pre-trial chamber judge Cuno Tarfusser also ordered the release of Congolese Member of Parliament Fidèle Babala-Wandu and defense witness Narcisse Arido.
Release of the quartet is conditional upon the court’s registry ensuring they indicate the addresses at which they will be staying and sign personal commitments to appear when summoned. The suspects could remain in detention if the prosecution successfully appeals for the release order to have suspensive effect.
In the release order issued today, Judge Tarfusser noted that the suspects’ continued pre-trial detention would be “disproportionate” to the penalties for the offences charged. If convicted, they would be sentenced to imprisonment not exceeding five years, or a fine, or both.
The judge said relevant evidence in the case had been acquired, thus reducing the risk of the suspects endangering investigations and committing the alleged offences again.
The suspects have been in court detention since November 2013 when arrest warrants were issued against them under Article 70 of the Rome Statute. According to the arrest warrants, Mr. Bemba ran a “criminal scheme” that coached and paid certain defense witnesses in exchange for presentation of false or forged evidence in his ongoing war crimes trial at the ICC.
According to the evidence gathered by prosecution investigators, in addition to making payments to defense witnesses, Mr. Kilolo allegedly tendered into evidence at least 14 documents that he knew to be false or forged. Mr. Kabongo is said to have assisted Mr. Bemba and Mr. Kilolo by “frequently” receiving money via Western Union, coaching witnesses and devising instructions to be issued to the witnesses. Mr. Arido and Mr. Wadu – a longtime associate of Mr. Bemba – were also accused of being part of the alleged scheme.
The suspects are to be released to countries of which they are nationals or where they resided at the time of their arrest. Mr. Kilolo is to be released to Belgium, Mr. Arido to France, and Mr. Babala to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mr. Kabongo, a Congolese national, is to be released to the United Kingdom for which he holds a valid visa and where his family resides.
Mr. Bemba will remain in detention because of his separate ongoing trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.