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Witness Tampering: New Sentences for Bemba and His Lawyers to be Announced This Month

This month, Jean-Pierre Bemba and his two former lawyers will be handed new sentences for witness tampering, according to an order issued by International Criminal Court (ICC) judges.

The former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), along with his former lawyers Aimé Kilolo Musamba and Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, were convicted in 2016 for tampering with 14 witnesses who testified for Bemba in his main trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Whereas they were initially sentenced in March 2017, an appeals chamber quashed those sentences because they were made in error, and ordered that fresh sentences handed down.

In the initial sentencing, Bemba was given a one-year prison term and a fine of €300,000 while Kilolo was sentenced to two years and six months imprisonment, with credit for the 11 months he had served in pre-trial detention. Judges ordered the suspension of the remaining term of imprisonment for a period of three years on condition that Kilolo paid a fine of €30,000 within three months and did not reoffend. Mangenda was sentenced to 11 months in jail, suspended for two years.

In June, Bemba was acquitted on appeal in his main trial and released after a decade of ICC detention. He travelled to the Congo, where he was nominated to run for the country’s president in elections scheduled for December. However, electoral authorities have declared his candidacy inadmissible due to the witness tampering convictions at the ICC. He is appealing that decision.

The new sentences to be handed down will be for fewer convictions than those for which Bemba and his associates were initially sentenced. This is because, on appeal, judges overturned one-third of the convictions.

At a sentencing hearing last month, Melinda Taylor, who represents Bemba, said her client should be given credit for the four and a half years he was in detention since the issuing of a warrant for his arrest in the witness tampering case. The offenses for which the three individuals were convicted carry a maximum sentence of five years in a prison, a fine, or both.

Whereas the prosecution asked judges to hand the three individuals the maximum penalty of five years plus “a substantial fine,” defense lawyers pleaded for non-custodial sentences. They claimed the time the individuals spent in pre-trial detention was sufficient deterrence and commensurate with the gravity of the offenses of which they were convicted.

Bemba, Kilolo, and Mangenda were convicted along with two other individuals whose sentences were not reversed by the Appeals Chamber. Congolese Member of Parliament Fidèle Babala Wandu, who was found guilty of corruptly influencing two witnesses, was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. Former defense witness Narcisse Arido, who was convicted for corruptly influencing four witnesses, was sentenced to 11 months’ imprisonment.