International Criminal Court (ICC) judges have confirmed charges of corruptly influencing witnesses against Jean-Pierre Bemba and four associates and committed them to trial.
Pre-Trial Chamber II found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Bemba, his two former lawyers, a defense witness and Congolese parliamentarian, implemented a “strategy” to present false evidence in Bemba’s ongoing trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The alleged crimes involved the corruption of 14 witnesses between 2011 and November 2013 in various locations, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Portugal, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon.
The witnesses involved are ‘Witness D04-02,’ ‘Witness D04-03,’ ‘Witness D0d-04,’ ‘Witness D04-06,’ ‘Witness D04-13,’ ‘Witness D04-15,’ ‘Witness D04-23,’ ‘Witness D04-25,’ ‘Witness D04-29,’ ‘Witness D04-54,’ ‘Witness D04-55,’ ‘Witness D04-57’ and ‘Witness D04-64’.
In the November 11, 2014 decision, judges dismissed charges by the prosecutor that the accused tendered into evidence 14 false or forged documents. They found that there was no evidence to suggest that the suspects knew the documents were false and used them in bad faith.
Last November, charges under Article 70 of the Rome Statute were laid against Bemba and his then defense lawyers Aimé Kilolo Musamba and Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo. Also accused were defense witness Narcisse Arido and Congo parliamentarian Fidèle Babala Wandu.
The pre-trial chamber found that as “in charge” of the defense team, Kilolo “regularly” contacted witnesses in advance of and during their testimony and “instructed” them on the content of the answers they should provide, as well as the information they should withhold during their testimonies. The alleged contacts included telephone calls, physical meetings in Douala and Yaoundé, both in Cameroon, and during breaks between courtroom sessions.
Kilolo is reported to have made “a series of money transfers of varying amounts to some of the witnesses.” During a meeting with four witnesses in Douala, he gave each of them €50 as “pocket money”. The defense lawyer also reportedly provided the witnesses with mobile phone handsets and advised them to buy SIM cards to stay in contact with him once the court’s Victims and Witnesses Unit removed their personal phones while they testified.
In a separate meeting in Yaoundé, Kilolo allegedly instructed two witnesses about the topics of their forthcoming testimonies. The instructions included the date when Bemba’s fighters arrived in the Central African Republic (CAR), their “degree of involvement” in pillaging and other crimes, the names of relevant officials in the Central African armed forces, and the troops’ logistics and movements.
On this occasion, the two witnesses received €25 each from the defense lawyer for transport expenses. One of the witnesses also received 500,000 Central African Francs (US$955) as “a gift” from Bemba for agreeing to testify on his behalf. This witness later received US$128 via Western Union while his counterpart received 540,000 CFA (US$1,031). Kilolo also allegedly instructed the witnesses to deny any recent contact or interaction with the defense, as well as any transfers or reimbursements received as defense witnesses.
Judges said evidence indicated that throughout the period of the charges, Mangenda was “fully aware” of Kilolo’s conduct and the possible legal consequences of his actions.
As case manager for the defense, Mangenda allegedly acted as a “liaison” between Kilolo and Bemba about money transfers and the content of testimonies. Two witness statements showed that he attended the Yaoundé meeting and handed over cell phones to witnesses.
Mangenda is also alleged to have “actively” advised Kilolo on the best way to deceive Bemba into believing that they needed more money for “neglected” witnesses, as a strategy to enrich themselves. The judges determined that the two lawyers kept other members of the defense team unaware of their actions and that their main concern was “to please Mr. Bemba and to implement his instructions, making sure that he was and remained satisfied with their work.”
The judges found that as the “financier”, Wandu transferred “considerable” amounts of money to witnesses and to the two defense lawyers. Evidence showed he personally and through his employee transferred a total of US$1,365 to families of two witnesses.
Recordings of intercepted phone calls showed that the Congolese parliamentarian conversed with Bemba on a regular basis, sometimes more than once a day. The two used “codes” to refer to money transfers.
Regarding Arido, judges found that he recruited prospective defense witnesses by “exploiting” their personal situations and leading them to falsely testify “under the illusion” that it would result in a better future for them.
He introduced four witnesses to Kilolo, after instructing them to lie to him about having served in the CAR military.
During 2012, Arido allegedly received over US$7,000 in money transfers from Kilolo and Wandu. At the time, he was expected to testify for the defense but he never boarded the flight booked for him to travel to The Hague.
Judges noted that whilst by virtue of his detention Bemba did not directly pay or coach the witnesses, “he was at the origin of many of the acts committed by the other suspects and was systematically informed of the status of those acts and of their results.” Notably, in three instances, the accused spoke to three witnesses on phone under the guise of privileged communications.
If neither the defense nor the prosecution appeals the confirmation decision, the court’s presidency will constitute a chamber to try the five individuals. Bemba remains in ICC detention over his ongoing trial, while his four co-accused were released last month.