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Bemba’s Second ICC Trial to Open in September

The witness and evidence tampering trial of former Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba and his four former associates opens this September at the International Criminal Court (ICC), the court announced today.

Today, judges instructed the prosecution to file a list of evidence to be relied on at trial, as well as a list of witnesses, by June 30, three months ahead of the September 29 trial opening date.

Those to be tried alongside Mr. Bemba include Aimé Kilolo Musamba, former head of the legal team that defended Mr. Bemba in a war crimes trial at the court, and Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, previously the case manager on that defense team. They also include a former defense witness and a member of the Congolese parliament who was a chief of staff to Mr. Bemba while he was the country’s vice president.

The five individuals are charged with corruptly influencing witnesses by giving them money and instructions to provide false testimony, presenting false evidence, and giving false testimony in the courtroom. The offenses were allegedly perpetrated in various ways, including by committing, soliciting, inducing, aiding, abetting, or assisting in their commission.

Last month, prosecutors indicated that they would call 11 witnesses. However, Presiding Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji suggested this number was high. The trial is expected to be the quickest of all those that have been conducted by the court.

Central to the trial are interceptions of emails and telephone conversations between the accused individuals, which prosecutors claim show they bribed and coached witnesses to provide false testimony. Among evidence to be tendered by the prosecution will be money transfer receipts from Western Union, telephone call records, email transcripts, text messages, and summaries of recorded communications.

Prosecution evidence shows that the alleged “strategy” to corrupt evidence was conducted in up to seven countries and affected 14 witnesses who testified for Mr. Bemba in his trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Presentation of evidence in that trial closed last November, and a verdict could be delivered later this year.

That trial, which commenced in November 2010, charged Mr. Bemba for failure to stop and punish his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers, who allegedly committed rape, murder, and pillaging in the Central African Republic during a 2002-2003 armed conflict.

In the order scheduling the opening of the trial, judges rejected a May 8, 2015 application by the Kilolo defense for the trial opening date to be delayed until the conclusion of Mr. Bemba’s main case.

It was argued in that application that Mr. Kilolo had knowledge of information directly linked to the defense of Mr. Bemba that was essential for his own defense in the new case.  Furthermore, the defense argued that Mr. Kilolo’s right to communicate such privileged information in the new case in order to contest the charges against him could affect Mr. Bemba’s right to a fair trial in the older case.

Judges ruled that it would be “wholly inconsistent” with their obligation to ensure an expeditious trial “to condition commencing trial on the conclusion of both the trial and potential appeal phases of the Main Case.”

Besides Mr. Bemba, the other suspects in the case were released from pre-trial detention last October. Mr. Bemba, whose appeal for interim release was dismissed earlier this week, remains in court custody.