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Bemba’s Witness Tampering Trial Opens Sept. 29

The trial of former Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo and his four associates opens Sept. 29 at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The five are accused of offences against the administration of justice in connection with the testimonies of witnesses who testified in Bemba’s previous trial for murder, rape, and pillaging allegedly committed by his fighters.

Among those who will go on trial with Bemba are his former lead defense lawyer Aimé Kilolo Musamba and case manager Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo. Others are former defense witness Narcisse Arido and Fidèle Babala Wandu, a member of the Congolese parliament who was a chief of staff to Mr. Bemba while he was vice president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The offences against the accused include corruptly influencing witnesses by giving them money and instructions to provide false testimony and giving false testimony in the courtroom, all perpetrated in various ways including by committing, soliciting, inducing, aiding, abetting, or otherwise assisting in their commission.

A statement from the court indicates that the trial will open with the reading of the charges against the five accused. Judges will then verify that the accused persons understand the nature of the charges. The accused persons will be asked whether they plead guilty or not guilty to the charges.

It is expected that the prosecution will make opening statements before proceeding to its presentation of evidence. Opening statements of the defense will be made at the beginning of the presentation of evidence by the defense.

Central to the trial are interceptions of emails and telephone conversations between the accused individuals, which according to prosecutors show that witnesses were bribed and coached 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 Bemba in his earlier trial.

The Open Society Justice Initiative has prepared a briefing paper about this new trial, available here.