Congolese Politician Loses Appeal of Witness-Tampering Sentence

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – The International Criminal Court’s appeals chamber on Wednesday upheld a former Congolese vice president’s sentence for witness tampering, a year after his war-crimes conviction was thrown out.

Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo appears before the International Criminal Court in June 2016. (Photo via ICC-CPI)

“The appeals chamber rejects all three grounds of appeal advanced by Mr. Bemba and reconfirms his sentence,” Presiding Judge Howard Morrison said before a nearly empty courtroom. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo himself was not present for the reading of the ruling, which affirmed the one-year sentence.

Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, will not be serving further jail time, as he already spent 10 years in detention during his trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity for his involvement in the Second Congo War that began in 1998 and ended in 2003.

Bemba was convicted at the International Criminal Court, the world’s only permanent court for atrocity crimes, in 2016 for crimes committed by his militia between 2002 and 2003. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison but that conviction was overturned on appeal in 2018 as a result of legal errors.

During the trial in 2013, he was also charged with witness tampering, along with four other people. The group, which included members of his legal team, developed a plan to coach witnesses using code words and paid them off with bribes during the trial.

Along with his co-conspirators, he was convicted in 2016 of those charges, the first of their kind brought at the ICC. He was sentenced to one year in jail and ordered to pay a fine of 300,000 euros, or $330,000.

In yet another appeal in 2018, Bemba and two others were acquitted of producing false evidence, though the witness tampering charges were upheld. They were resentenced a few months later. Bemba was again sentenced to one year in jail and ordered to pay the same fine.

This conviction kept him from running in presidential elections in Congo.

His legal team argued that since the charges in the witness tampering and false evidence case were reduced on appeal, his sentence should be as well.

“The sentence imposed on Mr. Bemba was disproportionate, and the findings which led to it were flawed,” his legal team wrote in their appeal.

The ICC’s appeals chamber disagreed Wednesday, finding the sentence was appropriate for the charges that were upheld and the trial chamber did not err in handing it down.

The ruling is final and cannot be appealed.

The 300,000 euros, as well as the fines from his four co-conspirators, will be paid to the Trust Fund for Victims, which provides financial assistance to the victims of crimes that are prosecuted at the ICC.

Formerly called Zaire, Congo is a Central African country that has been largely unstable since its independence from Belgium in 1960. The First Congo War, lasting from 1996 to 1997, began when a civil uprising in Rwanda, which eventually led to the Rwandan Genocide, spilled across the border into Congo.

Just a year after a peace treaty was signed, hostilities erupted again, leading to the Second Congo War.  That war officially ended in 2003, but violence has continued throughout the country.

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