Bemba II: First ICC witness-tampering sentences

Jean Pierre Bemba and associates Aimé Kilolo-Musamba, Jean-Jacques Manegenda Kabongo, Fidèle Babala Wadu and Narcisse Arido will be sentenced for witness-tampering-related charges on 22 March 2017. Photo: ICC
ICC judges are set to deliver sentences for convicted war criminal Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo as well as four associates for witness-tampering during Bemba’s earlier ICC trial. The outcome of the larger Bemba saga could serve as a key step in bolstering the integrity of Court proceedings.

What actually happened in the case?

Aimé Kilolo Musamba, Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, Fidèle Babala Wandu and Narcisse Arido were charged as defendants alongside Bemba in a second ICC case featuring the later-to-be-convicted former Mouvement pour la Libération du Congo (MLC) commander. The charged conduct falls under Article 70 of the Rome Statute, which deals with offenses against the administration of justice during ICC investigations and proceedings.

All five men were found guilty on 18 October 2016 for their roles in influencing witnesses during Bemba’s war crimes and crimes against humanity trial. The Article 70 charges related to false testimonies, or otherwise the corrupt influencing of witnesses that took place in Bemba’s main case.

Of the alleged false testimonies leading to conviction, most involved claims that witnesses served in the Central African army or in rebel groups during the period in which Bemba’s Congolese militia was in the country in response to a coup attempt. The witnesses had denied responsibility by Bemba’s troops for crimes committed during the conflict.

In the Article 70 conviction, ICC judges found that Bemba, Kilolo and Mangenda together agreed to interfere with defense witnesses by furnishing them with testimonies and evidence favorable to Bemba. Judges found the defendants adopted measures that would conceal their illicit activities, including abuse of the ICC Registry’s privileged phone line in the ICC Detention Center, money transfers to defense witnesses through third persons, distributing telephones to witnesses without the Registry knowing, and using coded language for telephone conversations around plans to bribe or illegally coach witnesses.

Bemba has remained in ICC custody based on his war crimes and crimes against humanity sentence. The other four defendants are on conditional release pending their sentencing.  The maximum sentence available for witness-tampering crimes is five years, a fine or both.


Who’s Who?

Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, a former vice-president of the DRC, businessman and rebel militia leader, was found guilty on 21 March 2016 of all charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity brought against him by the ICC Prosecutor. The charges related to conduct by Bemba’s MLC troops in the Central African Republic (CAR), leading to the Court’s first command responsibility and sexual and gender-based crimes conviction. On 21 June 2016, Bemba was sentenced to 18 years in prison, the longest ICC sentence delivered to date.

Regarding Bemba’s subsequent conviction for offenses against the administration of justice, the ICC charges included intentionally corruptly influencing numerous defense witnesses, soliciting false testimony by 14 defense witnesses and presenting their false testimonies at the ICC.

Aimé Kilolo Musamba, is the former lead defense counsel for Bemba during his main ICC case. Kilolo was also found guilty of numerous offenses related to witness-tampering, including intentionally corruptly influencing defense witnesses, inducing 14 defense witnesses to give false testimonies and presenting false testimonies at the ICC.

Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, also a former member of Bemba’s defense team in the main case, was found guilty of intentionally corruptly influencing defense witnesses, presenting their false testimonial evidence in Court and aiding two witnesses and abetting seven in giving false testimonies.

Fidéle Babala Wandu, a Congolese Member of Parliament and political ally of Bemba, was found guilty of aiding in corruptly influencing two defense witnesses in the main case. He was acquitted of aiding in the giving and presenting of false evidence.

Narcisse Arido, a former soldier in the CAR, was found guilty of corruptly influencing four defense witnesses but was acquitted of aiding in the presentation of false evidence and in aiding the giving of false testimony. Arido was a potential defense witness in the main case, but he did not testify in the end.


Bemba I: Main case background

On 21 March 2016, Jean-Pierre Bemba was found guilty of all charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity brought against him at the ICC. The conviction refers to his knowledge that MLC troops under his command during a military campaign in the CAR between 2002 and 2003 were committing atrocity crimes, and his failure to respond appropriately. On 21 June 2016 Bemba was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

The main Bemba case is noteworthy for a number of reasons:

  • Bemba’s was the third trial ever held at the ICC
  • It is the first case at the ICC arising from the Prosecutor’s first CAR situation (a second was opened in 2014).
  • Bemba’s conviction gave the Court its first conviction including sexual and gender-based crimes.
  • Bemba was the first ICC suspect convicted under the principle of ‘command responsibility.’
  • Bemba’s 18-year sentence is the longest to date handed down by ICC judges.