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World Court Convicts Congolese Warlord of Witness Tampering

FILE - Jean-Pierre Bemba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo sits in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, June 21, 2016.

The International Criminal Court on Wednesday convicted Congolese warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba and four others of witness tampering.

This was the second trial for Bemba at the court in The Hague. The former vice president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is serving an 18-year sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity related to widespread abuses by his forces in the Central African Republic.

In this case, Bemba and four members of his legal team were found guilty of bribing and otherwise influencing 14 defense witnesses to try to tilt the outcome of his first trial. They face up to five years in prison.

This was the ICC's first case dealing with witness tampering, and it will most likely not be its last. Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt described the actions of the accused as "clear and downright criminal behavior."

"Today's judgment sends the clear message that the court is not willing to allow its proceedings to be hampered or destroyed," he said. "It sends the message that those who try to distort and interfere with the administration of justice of this court do not go unpunished."

Similar allegations have cropped up in other ICC cases, particularly those dealing with post-election violence in Kenya.

Cases against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, who both faced charges of crimes against humanity, were ultimately dropped for insufficient evidence. The prosecution cited allegations of witness tampering, bribery and threats.

Reacting to Wednesday's verdict, Human Rights Watch noted three people had been arrested on charges of witness tampering in relation to the Kenya cases.