Aimé Kilolo Musamba, the defense lawyer on trial for allegedly bribing and coaching witnesses to provide false testimony at the International Criminal Court (ICC), has denied knowing that witnesses were giving false evidence.
“Nothing suggested to us or to me that the witnesses were lying about the events they were describing or their participation in the events,” said Kilolo in an unsworn statement. “All the counsels, all the legal assistants were convinced that these witnesses were clearly credible, clearly relevant.”
Kilolo was addressing judges as part of the final oral statements in the trial that started last September. He is being tried alongside former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba, his former case manager Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, Congolese legislator Fidèle Babala Wandu, and former defense witness Narcisse Arido. The prosecution alleges that the four conspired to coach and bribe witnesses in Bemba’s earlier trial over war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In his unsworn statement yesterday, Kilolo explained how he came into contact with the 14 witnesses who the prosecution says were bribed and coached to provide false testimony. He said a former captain in the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) was engaged as an intermediary by Bemba’s deceased lawyer, Nkwebe Liriss, after he visited The Hague in 2011. As an intermediary, his role was to locate former FACA soldiers or anti-government rebels who had participated in an armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) during 2002 and 2003.
The former military officer was deemed a suitable intermediary because of his career in FACA and his engagement in military and political activities around the CAR-Cameroon border where many former fighters lived. Kilolo recalled that when he took over as Bemba’s lead lawyer, he received emails from the intermediary who claimed he had identified soldiers who had participated in the conflict, as well as suitable civilians willing to testify about the crimes.
“The various emails I’ve mentioned were placed on the record of the case and were sent to Mr. Bemba’s defense team well before the first meetings with defense witnesses,” said Kilolo. The intermediary’s name and telephone number were also provided to the court’s Victims and Witnesses Unit. “I had no information that would lead me to believe that [he] would bring false information,” added Kilolo.
Subsequently, a team of four defense lawyers interviewed 100 individuals identified by the intermediary and selected 30 to testify for Bemba. “These witnesses appeared relevant and credible in my mind and the mind of my colleagues,” he said. He added that no witness could be called if they were not approved by the entire defense team. The team included Bemba’s current lawyers in his main trial, Peter Haynes and Kate Gibson.
Kilolo denied bribing witnesses, explaining that payments to them were for their travel, accommodation, and related expenses.
Meanwhile, in her closing oral statement, Bemba’s lawyer Melinda Taylor said Bemba neither had control over his defense lawyers nor determined how they conducted the case. “He decided objectives of his defense, but it is defense counsel not Bemba who decided how to carry them out,” she said.
Regarding the payments made to witness, Taylor noted that there was nothing “illegal or improper” about compensating witnesses, as it was established practice including by the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) and legal representatives of victims. She dismissed prosecution allegations that using money transfer services such as Western Union was inappropriate. “The OTP in this case also used it [Western Union]. They even sent money to a witness’s wife,” she said.
Taylor also stated that Bemba did not pay, meet, or coach any witness. She stated that, in the defense’s final brief in the main trial, Bemba denounced the evidence of the 14 witnesses who reportedly provided false testimony.