The former vice president of Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba and four of his associates will be sentenced for bribing witnesses during his war crimes trial, in the first such case before the International Criminal Court.
Hoping it will serve as a deterrent, prosecutors have asked for an eight-year sentence against Bemba, already serving an 18 year-term behind bars for crimes committed by his marauding troops in the Central African Republic in 2002 to 2003.
“The type of sentence, whether heavy or light, will send a clear message about the gravity of the crime,” said Mariana Pena, from the Open Society Justice Initiative, an international law advocacy group.
Prosecutors have recommended that Bemba, 54, be handed a new jail term “consecutive to his sentence in the main case.”
They also asked judges to sentence Bemba’s lawyer Aime Kilolo to eight years, his legal case manager Jean-Jacques Mangenda to seven, Narcisse Arido, a defence witness, to five years and Congolese lawmaker Fidele Babala to three.
The feared former rebel leader and his four associates were found guilty in October of bribing witnesses in what judges at the world war crimes court described as “clear and downright criminal behaviour”.
The bribery verdict was the first of its kind in the ICC’s history, and the charges were brought after a tip-off to the prosecutor’s office.
Handing down their verdict, the judges said Bemba had tried to skew his main trial and had “planned, authorised, and approved the illicit coaching” of the witnesses.
Prosecutors said Bemba masterminded a network to bribe and manipulate at least 14 defence witnesses, persuading them to lie.
Set up in 2002 to prosecute the world’s worst crimes, the ICC goes to great lengths to try to protect witnesses and its trials from any interference.
Source: ( Punch Nigeria )