The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor intends to call 11 witnesses to testify against Jean-Pierre Bemba and his four former associates on charges of witness and evidence tampering. However, trial judges have suggested this number is too high and that the trial needs to “begin and proceed immediately.”
During a status conference held today, prosecution lawyer Kweku Vanderpuye stated that the 11 witnesses they intended to call included three expert witnesses.
According to defense lawyers for the five accused persons, all the material related to the prosecution’s witnesses should be disclosed in “sufficient time” to allow them to analyze the evidence and conduct their own investigations. The prosecution said it had completed 90 to 95 percent of disclosures.
Taking into account written and oral submissions made by the parties, Presiding Judge Chile-Eboe Osuji did not set a trial commencement date but urged the Office of the Prosecutor to expedite its analysis of any information that had a bearing on their ongoing investigations.
Last November, pre-trial judges found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Bemba, his former defense lawyers Aimé Kilolo Musamba and Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, as well as defense witness Narcisse Arido and Congo parliamentarian Fidèle Babala Wandu implemented a “strategy” to present false evidence in Mr. Bemba’s 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.
Arrest warrants were issued against the suspects back in November 2013, and they were held in pre-trial detention until interim release orders were issued last October.
In the release order, Judge Cuno Tarfusser noted that the continued pre-trial detention of the individuals 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.
At the time, Judge Tarfusser said relevant evidence in the case had been acquired, thus reducing the risk of the suspects endangering investigations and committing the alleged offences again.
In their submissions today, prosecutors indicated that they could not commit to a trial opening date because they were yet to access some evidence contained on the seized electronic devices of the accused persons. This electronic material was provided under seal to the court by Dutch authorities and needed “vetting to avoid breach of lawyer-client privileges.”
For their part, defense lawyers stated that full prosecution disclosure must fall within two months of the trial opening date.
Today’s hearing was the first in a series of status conferences for discussions on progress in the trial proceedings. Upcoming status conferences will be scheduled in due course.