Judges on Wednesday sentenced former Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba to a year in jail and a fine of $325,000 for bribing witnesses during his war crimes trial in an unprecedented case before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“The chamber imposes on you an additional 12 months, one year, imprisonment,” presiding judge Bertram Schmitt told Bemba, adding a “substantial fine” was necessary “to discourage this kind of behaviour”.
Prosecutors had asked for eight years for Bemba, who is already serving 18 years after being convicted of war crimes by his marauding troops, who he sent into the Central African Republic in 2002 to 2003 to put down a coup against the then president.
Found guilty last year of bribery, the verdict and sentence are the first of their kind in the history of the ICC.
Bemba was found guilty in October of masterminding a network to bribe and manipulate at least 14 key witnesses, and had “planned, authorised, and approved the illicit coaching” of the witnesses to get them to lie at his main trial.
The heavy-set Bemba, 54, wearing a dark suit and light blue shirt, showed no emotion on Wednesday as the additional sentence was imposed by Judge Schmitt in the heavily protected courtroom in The Hague.
The year-long sentence will run consecutively to his 18 years’ jail time.
Bemba’s lawyer Aime Kilolo received the heaviest sentence among four of the former vice-president’s associates, handed two years and six months for “abuse of trust” as well as “abuse of the lawyer-client privilege”.
Bemba’s legal case manager Jean-Jacques Mangenda received two years; Narcisse Arido, a defence witness was given 11 months and Congolese lawmaker Fidele Babala was given six months.
All the sentences were well below what the prosecution had requested and none except for Bemba will effectively spend time behind bars, as the judge gave credit for time already spent in the ICC’s detention centre.
They also suspended Kilolo and Mangenda’s sentences for three years.