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Witnesses Testify Mostly in Private Sessions in Bemba Witness Tampering Trial

The trial hearings in the witness tampering case at the International Criminal Court (ICC) involving former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo and four associates have been held mainly in private sessions.

The majority of prosecution witnesses who testified before Trial Chamber VII between October 15 and October 28 have been people who were allegedly corruptly influenced to give false testimony in defense of Bemba, who has been on trial at the ICC since November 2010 for rape, murder, and pillaging reportedly committed by his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops when they were deployed in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003.

Some the witnesses who testified did so via video link from a location not disclosed publicly. One such person is Witness P-198. Others testified in court in The Hague. In each case, they also had lawyers present. The lawyers are limited to advising the witnesses whenever their testimony may become self-incriminatory. Their appointment is on the basis of rule 74 of the ICC’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence, which deals with the self-incrimination of a witness. This conclusion is based on the notification from the court’s registry, which is publicly available, about specific lawyers being appointed as legal advisers for specific witnesses.

An example of such a notification is the one appointing lawyer Raphael Nyabirungu Mwene Songa, based in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as legal adviser to Witness P-198. At the start of the court’s hearing on October 28, Witness P-198’s testimony was public and he answered questions from senior trial lawyer Kweku Vanderpuye about his contact with Aime Kilolo Musamba. Kilolo was the former lead defense lawyer for Bemba. Vanderpuye asked Witness P-198 about an interview he had with Kilolo in 2013. The details of when and where this interview took place were not discussed in public. It seemed Vanderpuye was re-examining the witness and it is unclear how many days Witness P-198 testified because the sessions before the morning of October 28 were closed to the public as were the rest of day’s hearing of October 28. It was not possible to establish which other witnesses testified between October 15 and October 28 because their testimony was made in private session.

In September this year, Bemba went on trial for allegedly corruptly influencing witnesses by giving them money and instructions to provide false testimony. He is on trial with Kilolo; former defense case manager Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo; former defense witness Narcisse Arido; and Congolese legislator Fidele Babala Wandu.