Four Arrested for Witness Tampering in International Criminal Court Trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba

Jean-Pierre BembaCredit: ICC
Jean-Pierre Bemba
Credit: ICC

On November 23 and 24, four individuals were arrested on charges of corruptly influencing witnesses in the International Criminal Court (ICC) case of The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo (ICC-01/05-01/08). [ICC Press Release: Bemba Case]  The accused, together with Jean-Pierre Bemba, are alleged to have procured false evidence and testimony in Mr. Bemba’s trial on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The four men are: Aimé Kiolo Musamba, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo’s lead counsel; Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, a member of Mr. Bemba’s defense team and case manager; Fidèle Babala Wandu, a member of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Parliament and Deputy Secretary General of the Mouvement de Libération du Congo; and Narcisse Arido, a defense witness.  The same charges were also leveled in a second warrant of arrest against Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, who has been detained at the ICC’s detention center since July 3, 2008.

Alleged Witness Tampering in Bemba Trial

The warrants of arrest were issued by Judge Cuno Tarfusser, who is the Single Judge of the Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC).  [ICC Press Release: Bemba Case]  He found reasonable grounds to believe that the five individuals were criminally responsible for committing offenses against the administration of justice, which would constitute violations of Article 70 of the Rome Statute of the ICC.  The individuals are specifically alleged to have presented falsified or forged documents and to have bribed certain witnesses to falsely testify in Mr. Bemba’s trial.  The Prosecutor’s Office also alleges that Mr. Bemba was the one to order, solicit, and induce the attempts to pervert the course of justice. [ICC Press Release: Prosecutor’s Statement]

Authorities in the Netherlands, France, Belgium, and the Democratic Republic of Congo carried out the respective arrests. [ICC Press Release: Bemba Case]  Fidèle Babala Wandu and Aimé Kilolo Musamba were transferred to ICC custody on November 25, while Mr. Kabongo and Mr. Arido will be transferred once France and the Netherlands have completed domestic proceedings. [ICC Press Release: First Appearances] Judge Cuno Tarfusser also requested that each State locate and freeze each suspects’ assets.

Jean-Pierre Bemba and the two other suspects in custody, Mr. Babala Wandu and Mr. Kilolo Musamba, appeared before Judge Cuno Tarfusser for a pre-trial hearing on November 27; the next step will be a judicial decision on whether to confirm the charges. [ICC Press Release: First Appearances]  The accused, their counsel, and observers raised questions regarding the implications for Mr. Bemba’s trial and his ability to mount a defense. []

The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo

Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, a former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Commander-in-Chief of the Mouvement de Libération du Congo (MLC) rebel group, is currently on trial for two counts of crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three counts of war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging). [ICC]  In 2002, Mr. Bemba allegedly sent MLC troops into the Central African Republic (CAR), which neighbors the Democratic Republic of Congo, in order to help put down a coup d’état against former CAR President Ange-Felix Patasse. [Globalpost] The MLC troops are alleged to have committed acts of rape, murder and pillage in CAR in 2002 and 2003. The presentation of Mr. Bemba’s case was completed on November 22, 2013, three years after his trial commenced. [ICC Press Release: Prosecutor’s Statement; ICC Press Release: Bemba Case]

Witness Tampering in International Criminal Trials

The ICC and other international criminal tribunals, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), have previously addressed alleged interference with the administration of justice.  Earlier this year on August 2, 2013, the ICC unsealed its first arrest warrant against Walter Osapiri Barasa for several offences against the administration of justice. [ICC Press Release: Water Barasa]  He is accused of having corruptly influenced ICC witnesses by bribing them to withdraw from several ongoing Kenyan cases at the ICC, or of having attempted to do so. [AllAfrica]

The ICTY has also initiated contempt proceedings in a number of cases, pursuant to Rule 77 of the its Rules of Procedure and Evidence.  Numerous witnesses have been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for contempt, including Beqa Beqaj, who was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment after attempting to convince witnesses to withdraw statements against the accused in the case of The Prosecutor v. Limaj et al. (IT-03-66). [ICTY]

Allegations of witness tampering were also made in the case of The Prosecutor v. Casimir Bizimungi et al. (ICTR-99-50-T), where the defense team alleged that Rwandan government officials pressured witnesses to testify against the accused, harassed and intimidated witnesses who testified in favor of the accused, and fabricated evidence.  While the ICTR considered such submissions, it eventually did not consider that the submissions “demonstrate[d] that the trial as a whole ha[d] been unfair.” [ICTR]

In  the case of Mr. Bemba, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda noted that she was particularly disturbed by the possible involvement of members in the legal profession in criminal activities like witness tampering and stated that the ICC’s arrests should serve as a warning to other perpetrators thinking of engaging in similar activities. [ICC Press Release: Prosecutor’s Statement]

Further information about The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo can be found on the ICC’s webpage dedicated to the case.  To learn more about international criminal law, please visit IJRC’s informational resource pages on the International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law.