The trial of five men suspected of interfering with witnesses opens at the ICC next week. Involving politicians and defense lawyers, it the first such case to come before the Court. Here’s all you need to know to bring you up to speed.
1. The ICC prosecutor alleges that, since early 2012, defense witnesses testifying in the now-concluded ICC trial of Congolese politician and militia leader Jean-Pierre Bemba were bribed to give false evidence. The prosecution will argue Bemba used his detention center’s privileged telephone line to plan and coordinate the alleged criminal scheme with four Congolese nationals.
2. The four other accused are: Aimé Kilolo-Musamba, Bemba’s lead defense counsel at the time; Jean-Jaques Mangenda Kabongo, who was also part of Bemba’s defense team; Fidèle Babala Wandu, a member of parliament in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and deputy secretary general of Bemba’s militia Movement for the Liberation of Congo; and Narcisse Arido, an expert defense witness on military operations in the original Bemba case.
3. All face charges of offenses against the administration of justice under Article 70 of the Rome Statute—the ICC’s founding treaty. Although not core ICC crimes, such offenses can severely undermine witness safety and the integrity of the Court’s judicial proceedings. Witness tampering is currently a key issue at the ICC, with the prosecutor seeking the arrest and transfer of three Kenyans suspected of interfering with witnesses in the Kenya situation.
4. Kilolo-Musamba, Bemba’s former lead counsel before his arrest, allegedly made improper contact with as many as fourteen witnesses to corrupt their testimony. He also allegedly participated in money transfers to witnesses. The defense will argue these were reimbursements for travel expenses. Kilolo-Musamba’s co-counsel, Peter Haynes, was apparently unaware of the scheme.
5. Meanwhile, Mangenda Kabongo allegedly served as a liaison between Bemba and Kilolo, allegedly fully aware of the instructions and money transfers, providing several witnesses with cellphones to use during sequestration.
6. The scheme allegedly involved a second layer of deception: Kilolo and Mangenda fabricating certain witness money requests as part of a strategy to enrich themselves at Bemba’s expense.
7. Babala Wandu is charged with assisting in the financial handling of the scheme. Bemba was allegedly recorded on a non-privileged phone line admonishing Babala for not systematically using the code words designed to refer to money transfers and defence team beneficiaries.
8. For his part, Arido allegedly advised four witnesses on how to testify as members of the Central African Republic armed forces. Two apparently had no such affiliation. The prosecution claims Arido promised money, relocation to safety and asylum in exchange for the testimony. Arido is alleged to have received sizeable money transfers from Kilolo, Babala and Babala’s chauffeur.
9. In October 2014, four of the accused were granted interim release on condition that they reappear whenever summoned by the Court. The ICC sought to avoid a disproportionately long period of pre-trial detention with respect to the maximum imprisonment term each man could face upon conviction (five years). Kilolo was released to Belgium, Mangenda to the United Kingdom, Babala to DRC and Arido to France.
10. Bemba’s trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly committed by his militia in the Central African Republic in 2002-3 concluded in November 2014. The verdict is expected later this year. From a defense perspective, the timing of the new case is significant. Bemba has been detained in the ICC detention centre since July 2008, and the upcoming trial will likely prolong his imprisonment even if he is acquitted in the first case.
This information was taken from the ICC decision confirming the charges in the Bemba et al case.
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