Former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba, who already faces war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, is on trial again. This time, Bemba and his associates are accused of corrupting witnesses and interfering with justice.
Jean-Pierre Bemba and four of his associates appeared grim as they listened to the charges read against them at the International Criminal Court on Tuesday.
All five are accused of trying to influence the outcome of Bemba’s first trial at the ICC. Also facing accusations in this second trial are two members of Bemba’s initial defense team, including his lawyer, Aime Kilolo, along with a close associate and a trial witness.
Prosecutors claim the men plotted to ensure Bemba's acquittal in his initial trial, and they have witness accounts and intercepted phone messages to prove it. At stake, chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in her opening remarks, are the very principles of fairness and justice the court is tasked to protect.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda waits for former Congo vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba to enter the courtroom of the International Criminal Court to stand trial, in The Hague, Sept. 29, 2015.
“We will demonstrate on the strength of our evidence how the accused engaged in a scheme to corruptly influence witnesses, to bribe them, to encourage or induce their false testimony, to coach their evidence illicitly and to present that false evidence to a chamber of this court,” said Bensouda.
All five men are pleading not guilty. They say the money involved was to help cover witness expenses. If found guilty, they face fines and up to five years in prison.
A former vice president in Democratic Republic of Congo, Bemba already faces war crimes and crimes-against-humanity charges at the ICC for atrocities committed by his private army in Central African Republic more than a decade ago. That trial concluded last November, and a verdict is expected later this year.