International Criminal Court (ICC) appeals judges have maintained earlier sentences imposed on former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba and his two former lawyers for witness tampering. None of them will be returning to jail. In a judgement issued on Monday September 17, 2018, the judges determined that the penalties imposed had a sufficient deterrent effect and the time the trio previously spent in detention was proportionate to the gravity of the offences for which they were convicted.
Presenting a summary of the ruling, Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said that while the prosecution had requested judges to impose a maximum prison sentence of five years plus a substantial fine for each of the convicted, the judges did not deem it appropriate to depart from the earlier sentences issued back in March 2017. He added that Trial Chamber VII considered that its prior sentencing considerations remained mostly accurate even after the appeals ruling that reversed the sentences. He said the Appeals Chamber “found errors only on limited points” in the earlier sentencing decision.
As was the case in the previous sentence, Bemba’s former defense case manager, Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, was handed a sentence of 11 months of imprisonment. However, after deducting the time he spent in pre-trial detention, the chamber considered the sentence as served.
Similarly, judges considered as served the sentence of 11 months imprisonment they handed to the former head of the defense team, Aimé Kilolo Musamba. Judges also maintained the earlier fine of €30,000 imposed on Kilolo. Bemba’s sentence was maintained at 12 months of imprisonment (considered as served) plus a fine of €300,000. The fines were ordered to be paid to the court within three months, and thereafter transferred to the Trust Fund for Victims.
The panel of judges, consisting of Judges Schmitt, Marc Perrin de Brichambaut and Raul Pangalangan, rejected a prosecution argument to hand the accused maximum sentences because of the alleged effects of their conduct on Bemba’s acquittal in his main trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“The prosecution submits that the corrupted and tainted evidence introduced by the convicted persons affected the main case appeal proceedings. The prosecution argues that the acquittal evidences the damage caused by the conduct of the convicted persons and constitutes an aggravating circumstance. The chamber does not follow this argumentation,” said Judge Schmitt.
Emphasising that the witness tampering case was independent from the main case, Judge Schmitt added: “This means that none of the chamber’s evidentiary findings in this case were affected by the main case appeal judgment in any way.” This also meant that in order to evaluate to what extent the corrupted witnesses affected the merit of the main case, the chamber would inevitably need to assess the main case record, which would be tantamount to disregarding the judges’ consistent directions in the witness corruption case.
Further, Judge Schmitt said there was “absolutely no indication” that the appeals chamber majority in the main case relied upon the corrupted witnesses. He said, “The prosecution manifestly fails to establish any causation between what the three convicted persons were convicted of and the outcome of the main case appeal judgement. This means that the chamber cannot consider the main case acquittal as aggravating sentencing to be imposed in the present case.”
In October 2016, Bemba, Kilolo, and Mangenda, along with Congolese Member of Parliament Fidèle Babala Wandu and former defense witness Narcisse Arido, were found guilty of corruptly influencing witnesses and soliciting false testimonies in Bemba’s main trial. Wandu and Arido’s six months and 11 months’ imprisonment, respectively, were not reversed by the Appeals Chamber.
Following their arrests in November 2013, Bemba’s co-accused were given interim release in October 2014 after spending 11 months in pre-trial detention. Bemba remained in detention until last June when judges overturned his conviction for war crimes and crimes against humanity and subsequently released him after nearly 10 years in detention. He had been sentenced to 18 years in jail for those crimes in June 2016.