The Hague, Wednesday
A bitter dispute at the world’s only permanent war crimes court over Congolese politician Jean-Pierre Bemba flared back into the open Wednesday, as prosecutors alleged his surprise acquittal was based on tainted evidence.
Earlier this month, a starkly divided five-judge Bench of the International Criminal Court overturned Bemba’s 2016 conviction and 18-year jail term imposed for five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
But prosecutor Kweku Vanderpuye told judges in a separate corruption and bribery case involving Bemba and his cohorts that “you can’t underestimate the degree of corrosion that was in the record before the appeals court”.
“At the end of the day, the appeal achieved the very objective of the common criminal plan in which these defendants participated, which was Bemba’s acquittal.”
Wednesday’s hearing was called after the appeals court in the corruption case ordered judges to re-determine the sentence imposed on Bemba, 55, and two others.
The appeals court confirmed in March they were guilty of bribing, corrupting and coaching 14 defence witnesses in his main trial.
But the appeals judges ruled the original sentences imposed for corruption of between two-and-a half years and six months were too low and sent the case back to the lower court for re-sentencing.
Vanderpuye called for a maximum five years to be imposed on Bemba, his lawyer Aime Kilolo and his legal case manager Jean-Jacques Mangenda.
“Anything other than this in our view is patently untenable. Rather than stem impunity it would only promote it,” he argued.
Neither Bemba, once a rebel leader who became vice president of the vast central African country, nor his co-accused were present in the court on Wednesday.
After his June 8 acquittal in the main war crimes case, Bemba was provisionally freed by the ICC pending sentencing in the corruption case and has returned to Belgium where he was arrested in 2008 and handed over to the ICC.
The ICC opened its doors in 2002 as a court of last resort which seeks to bring to justice those behind the world’s worst atrocities where domestic tribunals cannot act.
In the court’s toughest sentence to date, Bemba had initially been found guilty by the judges of the atrocities committed by his private army, the Congolese Liberation Movement, under his command.
They committed a series of rapes, murders and pillaging after being sent into neighbouring Central African Republic to put down a coup from 2002-03. — AFP