DR Congo’s Bemba at ICC on witness-tampering charge

20The Democratic Republic of Congo’s former Vice-President John-Pierre Bemba has appeared in court on charges of conspiring to present false evidence at his war crimes trial.

Mr Bemba appeared at the International Criminal Court (ICC) with his lawyer Aime Kilolo and MP Fidele Babala Wandu, who are facing similar charges.

Mr Kilolo and Mr Wandu were arrested a few days ago while Mr Bemba has been in detention since 2008.

The three were not asked to plead.

However, Mr Bemba told Judge Cuno Tarfusser that “as far as I am concerned, I have acted in good faith”, the Associated Press news agency reports.

‘Arrests in four countries’

Mr Bemba served as one of DR Congo’s four vice-presidents between 2003 and 2006.

He was arrested under an ICC warrant in Belgium in 2008 and extradited to The Hague to stand trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The charges stem from allegations that he fuelled conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR), a neighbour of DR Congo, in 2002 and 2003.

He denies the charges.

On Sunday, the ICC said Mr Kilolo and another member of Mr Bemba’s legal team, Jean-Jacques Kabongo, had been arrested along with Mr Wandu and defence witness Narcisse Arido.

The arrests took place in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and DR Congo on 23 and 24 November following warrants issued by the ICC,the court said in a statement.

Mr Wandu and Mr Kabongo have not yet been transferred to The Hague and therefore did not appear in court.

Arrest warrants issued by the ICC are executed by local law-enforcement agencies.

The four are suspected of being “criminally responsible for the commission of offences against the administration of justice”, the ICC said.

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“The suspects, it is alleged, were part of a network for the purposes of presenting false or forged documents and bribing certain persons to give false testimony in the case against Mr Bemba,” it added.

No date has been set for Mr Bemba’s trial.

He led a militia known as the Movement for the Liberation of Congo during DR Congo’s brutal civil war.

The troops intervened in a power struggle in CAR in 2002 and 2003, and are accused of murdering and raping civilians.

After a peace deal in DR Congo in 2003, Mr Bemba laid down his arms and joined an interim government.

He lost a run-off election against President Joseph Kabila in 2006.

One of Mr Bemba’s defence lawyers has suggested that the war crimes charges against him may be politically motivated to remove him from future elections.

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