ICC To Sentence DR Congo’s Bemba In Bribery Case

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s highest court on September 12, 2018, in Brussels ended former warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba’s bid to stand in this year’s presidential election, upholding an earlier ban imposed on him for bribing witnesses. JOHN THYS / AFP

 

 

Former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba is to be sentenced on Monday by international judges for bribing witnesses during an earlier war crimes trial, which led to him being excluded from running for DR Congo president.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague acquitted the businessman-turned-rebel leader on appeal for war crimes and crimes against humanity three months ago — but a second minor case has continued to haunt him and his political ambitions.

In June, a sharply divided five-judge ICC bench overturned Bemba’s 2016 conviction and 18-year jail term for murders, rapes, and pillaging committed by his private army in the neighboring Central African Republic in 2002-2003 and acquitted him.

However, Bemba and five co-accused were found guilty on appeal in March of bribery, corruption and of coaching 14 defense witnesses in the main trial.

Bemba, 55, was handed a year-long prison term and a 300,000 euro ($350,000) fine.

ICC appeals judges, however, then ruled that the sentences of up to two-and-half years were too low and sent the case back for re-sentencing.

Prosecutors called for a maximum five years to be imposed on Bemba, his lawyer Aime Kilolo and his legal case manager Jean-Jacques Mangenda.

The ICC is to hand down its new rulings at 1300 GMT on Monday.

– ‘Miniature-Mobutu’ –

In response to the corruption conviction, the Congolese Constitutional Court ruled that Bemba was ineligible to run in presidential polls on December 23.

He has already spent a decade behind bars during his trial and is thus unlikely to serve any more time.

After his June 8 acquittal in the main war crimes case, Bemba was provisionally freed by the ICC pending his sentencing in the corruption case.

It was unclear whether he would be present in court during Monday’s proceedings.

The bribery case has impeded the political ambitions of a man sometimes referred to as a “miniature-Mobutu”, in reference to former Zaire’s long-time ruler who was ousted in 1997.

Bemba had declared his candidacy after making a triumphant return home last month, with tens of thousands of supporters turning out to greet him.

After being barred from the ballot by the election commission, the thick-set and imposing Bemba appealed the decision.

The Congolese Constitutional Court, however, in its ruling confirmed “the ineligibility of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo for suborning witnesses by resorting to bribery”.

Bemba in return denounced the elections as a “parody”.

In an interview published in the magazine Jeune Afrique on Monday, Bemba said that if the elections were democratic and the opposition united behind one candidate, he would support that person and “make them win”.

The former Belgian colony has not seen a peaceful transition of power since 1960.

But President Joseph Kabila, who has held office since 2001, has said he will not run again.

Some experts fear the current crisis may spiral into bloodshed.

Kabila, who took over in 2001 after his father Laurent-Desire Kabila was assassinated by a bodyguard, is an arch-foe of Bemba.

Kabila’s tenure over the vast mineral-rich country has been marked by a reputation for corruption, inequality, and unrest.

Bemba lost presidential elections to Kabila in 2006 and was later accused of treason when his bodyguards clashed with the army in Kinshasa.

In 2007, he fled to Belgium, where he had spent part of his youth before he was arrested on an ICC warrant and transferred to the court.

AFP

Party Names Ex-Warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba Candidate For DR Congo Presidential Poll

 

The former vice president of DR Congo Jean-Pierre Bemba, who was acquitted last month of war crimes, was on Friday named by his party as a candidate in presidential polls planned for December.

“We unanimously decided to renew Senator Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo as national president of the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo for a five-year term and to name him as our candidate for the presidential election of December 23, 2018,” said the party’s Jean Jacques Mamba.

Earlier this week the DRC said Bemba could apply for a diplomatic passport to return home after he was acquitted of war crimes in The Hague.

The DRC is in the grip of a crisis over the future of President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the country since 2001 and has remained in office, despite a two-term constitutional limit that expired in December 2016.

He has remained in power under a constitutional clause that enables a president to stay in office until his or her successor is elected.

Bemba’s party named him as their candidate at a congress in Kinshasa.

On June 8, judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC), overturned a 2016 conviction against Bemba for five counts of war crimes committed by his militia in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003.

They said he could not be held criminally liable for atrocities they committed, which included murder, rape and looting, as he was unable to influence their conduct.

He had been given an 18-year term, the longest ever to be handed down by the court.

Bemba was earlier this week known to be in Belgium having gained an interim release from the court.

The ICC is due to issue a ruling in a separate case in which he was sentenced to a one-year in jail and fined 300,000 euros ($350,000) in 2017 for bribing witnesses during his main war crimes trial.

However, he has already spent a decade behind bars, and legal experts expect him to be released definitively if this time is taken into account.

It remains unclear whether he faces any threat of prosecution if he sets foot on DRC soil, after authorities issued a warrant in 2007 against him over the violence and for alleged arson at the Supreme Court.

AFP