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Appeals Judges Uphold Most of Former Congo VP's Convictions

FILE - Former Congo vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba looks up at his trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Sept. 29, 2015.

Appeals judges at the International Criminal Court on Thursday upheld most of the convictions of a former Congolese vice president for interfering with witnesses during his war crimes trial, and ordered the original trial chamber to review his sentence.

The appeals ruling helps to solidify jurisprudence dealing with attempts by suspects to interfere with the course of justice at the court, which was set up to prosecute offenses including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes around the world.

Jean-Pierre Bemba was sentenced last year to a year in prison and fined 300,000 euros ($371,000) for interfering with witnesses in his war crimes and crimes against humanity trial at the court. The sentence came on top of an 18-year prison term he is serving for crimes committed in Central African Republic by a militia he commanded. Bemba also has appealed those convictions.

Convictions also were largely upheld against four members of Bemba's legal team for their roles in bribing witnesses so that they would give testimony that could help to acquit Bemba.

Sending the cases of Bemba and two of his team back to trial judges to review sentences, the appeals chamber said that the trial chamber wrongly assessed the gravity of the offenses. The suspended sentences of two members of the legal team were sent back to the trial judges because the appeals panel said that the court's rules do not include the power to impose suspended sentences.

Presiding Judge Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi said the appeals panel acquitted Bemba and two members of his defense team on a charge of presenting false evidence during his trial because the rule under which they were originally convicted applies only to presentation of documents and in their cases it was wrongly applied to witness testimony.