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ICC upholds Bemba sentence for bribing witnesses

The International Criminal Court Wednesday rejected an appeal by former DR Congo warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba against a one-year sentence for bribing witnesses, a case that ultimately thwarted his bid for the presidency.

Bemba's hopes of contesting DR Congo's presidential elections were dashed after he was declared ineligible because of the 2017 bribery conviction
Bemba’s hopes of contesting DR Congo’s presidential elections were dashed after he was declared ineligible because of the 2017 bribery conviction

Bemba was however deemed to have already served enough time behind bars, having spent a decade in detention in The Hague before being acquitted last year for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The former Congolese vice president, now 57, was freed by the court in 2018 after the shock war crimes verdict.

He is back in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he is trying to resurrect his political career.

Judges in 2017 sentenced Bemba and five co-accused for bribery, corruption and coaching 14 defence witnesses in his main trial, giving him a one-year-sentence and a 300,000-euro ($330,000) fine.

“The appeals chamber rejected all three grounds of appeal of Mr Bemba” against the bribery sentence, the ICC said in a statement on Wednesday.

The earlier trial judges, it declared, “did not fail to comply with the directions of resentencing, did not err in law or fact and did not impose a disproportionate sentence.”

The court meanwhile “considered the sentences of imprisonment as served due to the time they already spent behind bars.”

Bemba was found guilty in 2016 in the witness tampering case along with four other people, and the ICC’s appeals chamber rejected his appeal against the original conviction and sentence in March last year.

The appeals judges also sent the case back to trial judges for re-sentencing as they said the original penalties were too low, but the trial judges reconfirmed their earlier sentences in September.

The bribery case has continued to haunt a man sometimes referred to as a “miniature-Mobutu”, in reference to the former ruler of then-Zaire who was ousted in 1997.

Bemba had high hopes of a political comeback when in June last year the ICC overturned his 2016 conviction and 18-year jail term for murders, rapes and pillaging committed by his private army in the neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002-2003.

On his return home he declared his candidacy.

But the country’s Constitutional Court then ruled that because of the bribery conviction, Bemba was ineligible to run in presidential polls, which took place on December 30.

Bemba’s lawyers in March claimed 68 million euros ($74 million) in damages from the ICC, saying their client was “an innocent man (who) lost 10 years of his life”. AFP