The controversy triggered by the International Criminal Court’s acquittal of former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba rebounded Wednesday before the ICC, with the prosecution claiming that the surprise appeal judgment was based on biased evidence.
Jean-Pierre Bemba, was sentenced at first instance in 2016 to 18 years in prison, the heaviest sentence ever imposed by the ICC, for the murders, rapes and looting committed in the Central African Republic by his militia between October 2002 and March 2003.
But last month, an appeal court overturned his conviction.
However, the case returned to the Hague court on Wednesday where the former DRC vice-president is accused of bribery of witnesses in his main trial. Judges are expected to render their decisions in the coming months.
“You cannot underestimate the degree of corrosion of the file before the Court of Appeal,” prosecutor Kweku Vanderpuye told the international court.
“In the end, the appeal achieved the very purpose of the criminal project in which the accused participated, which was Bemba’s acquittal.
Wednesday’s hearing was convened after the Court of Appeal in the witness bribery case ordered the judges to review the sentence imposed on the 55 year-old former vice president and militia leader and two other co-accused.
The Court of Appeal confirmed in March that they were guilty of corruption and bribery of 14 witnesses in the main case. But it considered that the sentences handed down in March 2017 in this side case, ranging from six months to two and a half years in prison, were too light. Jean-Pierre Bemba was sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of 300,000 euros.
Prosecutor Vanderpuye has requested a maximum of five years for Jean-Pierre Bemba, two of his lawyers, a member of his party and a defence witness, accused of having fabricated or presented false documents to the ICC and paid money to witnesses in order to obtain Mr. Bemba’s acquittal in his trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“Anything other than that is in our view clearly indefensible. This would only promote impunity rather than fight it,” he assured.
But for Bemba’s lawyers, this is only an attempt by the ICC to “amuse the gallery” after the acquittal verdict, which had referred to “serious mistakes” made by the Trial Chamber.
Highlighting the ten that Bemba has already spent in pre-trial detention, her lawyer Melinda Taylor called for a release as “the fairest and most appropriate way out”, while raising the possibility of a fine in the witness bribery case.
“It is high time to end this trial and let Mr. Bemba go free,” she added.
Jean-Pierre Bemba, who since his release in mid-June joined his family in Belgium, was not present at the hearing on Wednesday.