International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Witness Tampering: Prosecutor Proposes Maximum Sentence for Bemba and His Former Lawyers

The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor has proposed a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment for Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba and his two former lawyers, who are due to receive fresh sentences for witness tampering. The prosecutor says she does not oppose the imposition of a monetary fine on the trio, who have up to the end of this month to make their own sentencing submissions.

Bemba and his former lawyers, Aimé Kilolo Musamba and Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, will receive new sentences following the March 2018 reversal of their earlier sentences by an Appeals Chamber at the ICC.

In the initial sentencing in March 2017, Bemba was handed a one-year prison term and a fine of €300,000; Kilolo received a two-and-a-half year suspended sentence plus a fine of €30,000; while Mangenda was sentenced to 11 months in jail, suspended for two years.

However, the Appeals Chamber found that the trial chamber committed errors in assigning lower sentences to accessories to a crime rather than to co-perpetrators in suspending the sentences for Kilolo and Mangenda, and in assigning less gravity to false testimony on “non-merit” issues relative to false testimony on “merit” issues of a case.

Furthermore, the Appeals Chamber overturned Bemba and his lawyers’ conviction over presentation of false oral testimony but confirmed all the other convictions of giving false testimony and corruptly influencing witnesses.

In the April 30, 2018 sentencing submissions, prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stated that, in deciding on the new sentences, the trial chamber should increase the individual and joint sentences for each of the three convicted persons to a five-year term of imprisonment.

Bensouda contends that the false testimony given by witnesses on “non-merits” issues was grave because the information was crucial for the judges in Bemba’s main trial to determine the credibility of witnesses and the reliability of their evidence.

The prosecutor argues that Bemba and Kilolo deserve a sentence that is commensurate with their criminal responsibility for having contributed to the false testimony of 14 of the 34 witnesses that testified for Bemba in his trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity. She says Mangenda’s sentence should likewise reflect the true extent of his assistance to the false testimony of nine witnesses.

Article 70 of the Rome Statute on administration of justice, under which Bemba and his associates were convicted, provides that in the event of a conviction, judges may impose a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years, a fine, or both.

In the sentencing submissions, the prosecutor “welcomes” the imposition of a fine in addition to the five-year prison sentences. However, she notes that because the convicted persons’ financial situations are unclear, the trial chamber should determine whether such an additional fine should be imposed.

In addition, the prosecutor asks judges to order Kilolo and Mangenda back into custody to serve the new sentences imposed. The two were released from ICC detention in October 2014, having spent eleven months in pre-trial detention.

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