Former Congolese VP Bemba convicted of witness tampering at war crimes court

Former Congo vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba looks up when sitting in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court to stand trial with Aime Kilolo Musamba, Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, Fidele Babala Wandu and Narcisse Arido, on charges including corrupting witnesses and interfering with the administration of justice in The Hague, Netherlands, September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Peter Dejong/Pool
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THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Congolese former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba and his defence team bribed witnesses to lie in his defence at a war crimes trial that ended in the highest ranking conviction by the International Criminal Court, judges ruled on Wednesday.

The court said that 14 key witnesses had been coached about what to say and that Bemba and four other defendants had conspired to present false evidence to the court.

Supporters of Bemba, who is appealing his conviction and 18-year sentence for overseeing a campaign of rape and murder in the Central African Republic more than a decade ago, had no immediate comment.

Judges ruled the politician, who served as vice president from 2003 to 2006, failed to discipline or restrain his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) soldiers as they rampaged through the neighbouring country in 2002 and 2003 when they found him guilty in March this year.

As part of a systematic effort to interfere with the trial, Bemba and his team used secret phones and code language to instruct witnesses in exchange for cash, promises of relocation, computers and other bribes, the court found.

“No legal system in the world can accept the bribing of witnesses, the inducement of witnesses to lie, or the illicit coaching of witnesses, nor can the International Criminal Court,” Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said.

“Today’s judgment sends the clear message that the court is not willing to allow its proceedings to be hampered or destroyed,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Aaron Ross in Kinshasa; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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