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Fri Feb 24 21:23:13 SAST 2017

Ex Congo VP could face eight years for bribing witnesses

AFP | 2016-12-13 18:18:23.0
Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo of the Democratic Republic of the Congo sits in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, June 21, 2016.
Image by: MICHAEL KOOREN / REUTERS

Prosecutors have asked for an eight-year sentence for former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba, found guilty by the International Criminal Court of bribing witnesses during his war crimes trial.

"The prosecution recommends that Bemba be sentenced to a joint sentence of eight years imprisonment... to be served consecutively to his sentence in his main case," prosecutors said in a court document posted on the ICC's website.

They also asked judges to sentence Bemba's lawyer Aime Kilolo to eight years, his legal case manager Jean-Jacques Mangenda to seven, Congolese lawmaker Fidele Babala to three and Narcisse Arido, a defence witness, to two years.

The feared former rebel leader and his four associates were found guilty in October of bribing witnesses in what judges at the Hague-based ICC described as "clear and downright criminal behaviour."

Prosecutors said Bemba masterminded a network to bribe and manipulate at least 14 defence witnesses, persuading them to lie.

Bemba was sentenced in June to 18 years in jail on five charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed when his troops went on a rampage in neighbouring Central African Republic from 2002-2003.

The verdict in the bribery case is the first of its kind in the ICC's history, and came after a tip-off to the prosecutor's office.

Set up in 2002 to prosecute the world's worst crimes, the ICC goes to great lengths to try protect both witnesses and its trials from any interference or hampering.

But in Bemba's case, Kilolo instructed the witnesses to lie on key points and scripted, dictated and corrected the testimonies, ICC judges said.

In return, he promised the witnesses would be paid between 600 to 800 euros ($640 to 850), given new laptops or would be in Bemba's "good graces".

Mangenda liaised between Bemba and Kilolo and helped to distribute cell phones to the witnesses without court officials knowing.

Babala, deputy secretary of Bemba's MLC party, was found to have handled the money transfers.

Arido, who was an expert defence witness on military operations in the Central African Republic, acted as a kind of "go-between". He recruited four of the defence witnesses, promising them 10 million Central African francs (about 15,200 euros) and a relocation to Europe, the judges said.

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