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Judge Rejects Prosecution Bid to Have Costs of Bemba’s ICC Trial Revealed

An International Criminal Court (ICC) judge has rejected a prosecution request to order the court’s Registry to reveal the costs incurred on trying former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba. Whereas the prosecution wanted to use this information in its submissions on sentencing, Judge Bertram Schmitt concurred with defense lawyers that the request was made prematurely, so he did not consider its merits.

Judges are yet to deliver a judgment in the case where Bemba and four others – including two of his former defense lawyers – were tried for coaching and bribing 14 witnesses to provide false evidence. The witnesses testified in Bemba’s main trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, for which he is appealing the conviction and 18-year prison sentence.

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, in an application lodged last month, said information on the amount of money spent on Bemba’s main trial, and specifically on the 14 witnesses, would “assist the chamber to assess the actual and potential pecuniary damage to the court” arising from Bemba’s alleged conduct.

However, Judge Schmitt noted that, the chamber did not hear submissions on sentencing during the course of the witness corruption trial hearings. He said parties would be given the opportunity to raise sentencing submissions in the event of convictions.

“The request is thus made at a time when the chamber has hitherto heard no sentencing submissions, the case is being deliberated, a judgment pursuant to Article 74 of the [Rome] Statute on the guilt or innocence of the accused has yet to be rendered and there has been no conviction against which the request might be made,” ruled the judge.

The judge dismissed the prosecution’s argument that releasing such information would avoid delay in any sentencing phase, given that the Registry had confirmed that if ordered, it would provide the information in three days.

Defense lawyers said the timing of the request violated the presumption of innocence as judgment had not been rendered yet. They argued that the request encroached upon defense privilege and confidentiality, violated the principle of trial fairness, and was unconvincing because the charges in this case did not concern the substance of the testimony of the 14 witnesses in the main case.

For its part, the Registry submitted that it considered that some of the costs of the main case, such as for staff, would have been incurred by the court irrespective of the accused’s alleged conduct. Thus, “the Registry considers that providing a total cost assessment of the main case would not assist the chamber in determining the extent of the damage caused or the severity of the alleged criminal conduct.”

The Registry added, however, that there were costs associated with organizing the witness tampering proceedings, which judges may deem relevant in the event of a conviction.

Last September, Bemba went on trial for corruptly influencing witnesses by giving them money and instructions to provide false testimony. Tried alongside him were his erstwhile lawyers Aime Kilolo Musamba and Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, former defense witness Narcisse Arido, and Congolese legislator Fidèle Babala Wandu.