Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba alongside four associates, who include two of his former defense lawyers, have been convicted in the witness bribery trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Their sentences will be announced at a later date.
Upon conviction for offenses against the administration of justice covered by Article 70 of the court’s Rome Statute, judges may impose a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years, a fine, or both. Today judges ordered that those convicted, besides Bemba, would remain on conditional release pending the determination of their penalties.
Bemba and his former lawyers Aimé Kilolo Musamba and Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo were found guilty of corruptly influencing 14 witnesses – D-2, D-3, D-4, D-6, D-13, D-15, D-23, D-25, D-26, D-29, D-54, D-55, D-57, and D-64 – and presenting their false evidence before the court.
Furthermore, Kilolo was found guilty of inducing the giving of false testimony by the 14 witnesses, while Bemba was additionally convicted for soliciting the giving of false testimony. The judges also determined that Mangenda aided in the giving of false testimony by two witnesses and abetted the giving of false testimony by seven witnesses. Mangenda was acquitted of charges of aiding the giving of false testimony by five witnesses.
Congolese Member of Parliament Fidèle Babala Wandu, who is Bemba’s close confidante, was found guilty of aiding in corruptly influencing two witnesses but acquitted of similar charges in relation to 12 witnesses. Babala was also acquitted of charges of aiding in giving false evidence and presenting false evidence.
Meanwhile, Narcisse Arido, a former soldier in the Central African Republic (CAR), was found guilty of corruptly influencing three witnesses but acquitted on charges of aiding in presentation of false evidence and in aiding the giving of false testimony.
The false testimony mostly related to claims by witnesses that they served in the army of the CAR, or in rebel forces, during 2002-2003 when Bemba’s troops were in that country helping the government to fight back a coup attempt. These witnesses claimed Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops were not responsible for the crimes committed during the conflict and that the Congolese troops fell under command of Central African generals.
Judges determined that Bemba, Kilolo, and Mangenda jointly agreed to illicitly interfere with defense witnesses to ensure they would provide evidence in favor of Bemba. They “adopted a series of measures with a view to concealing their illicit activities, such as the abuse of the Registry’s privileged line in the ICC Detention Center, or money transfers to defense witnesses through third persons or to persons close to the defense.”
They said Kilolo and Mangenda secretly distributed new telephones to defense witnesses without the knowledge of the Registry and in breach of the cut-off date for contacts imposed by judges so that Kilolo could stay in contact with them. “They also used coded language when speaking on the telephone, making reference to persons by using codes, or using particular expressions…signifying the bribing or illicit coaching of witnesses,” states the summary judgement issued today.
Today’s ruling brings to eight the number of individuals convicted by the court since its founding in 2002. Those previously convicted are Thomas Lubanga, Germain Katanga, Ahmed Al Faqi Al Mahdi, and Bemba. Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, a former leader of a Congolese militia group, has been the only person acquitted by the ICC.
Bemba’s co-accused were arrested on November 23 and 24, 2013, from Belgium, the Democratic Republic of Congo, France, and The Netherlands. In October 2014, Judge Cuno Tarfusser ordered their interim release, stating that continued pre-trial detention would be disproportionate to the penalties for the offenses charged. Whereas his co-accused were released, Bemba stayed in detention on account of his main trial, in which judges repeatedly rejected his appeals for interim release.
Bemba is currently appealing the 14-year prison sentence handed down to him earlier this year following a unanimous conviction on all crimes charged in his main trial. The appeal raises several fair trial issues arising from the witness tampering case, including the extensive access by prosecution officials to privileged defense communication and the defense strategy, and failure by trial judges to grant the defense in the main case an opportunity to respond to allegations of witness tampering.