A Note of Caution About the Bemba Arrests
The ICC has announced that four individuals associated with the Bemba case, including Bemba’s lead counsel and case manager, have been arrested on suspicion of witness tampering and manufacturing evidence:
On 23 and 24 November 2013, the authorities of the Netherlands, France, Belgium and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) acting pursuant to a warrant of arrest issued by Judge Cuno Tarfusser, the Single Judge of the Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC), arrested four persons suspected of offences against the administration of justice allegedly committed in connection with the case of The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo. This warrant of arrest in respect of the same charges was also served on Jean-Pierre Bemba at the ICC’s detention centre, where he has been detained since 3 July 2008.
On 20 November 2013, Judge Tarfusser issued a warrant of arrest for Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, his Lead Counsel Aimé Kilolo Musamba, Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo (a member of Mr Bemba’s defence team and case manager), Fidèle Babala Wandu (a member of the DRC Parliament and Deputy Secretary General of the Mouvement pour la Libération du Congo), and Narcisse Arido (a Defence witness).
Judge Cuno Tarfusser found that there are reasonable grounds to believe that these persons are criminally responsible for the commission of offences against the administration of justice (article 70 of the Rome Statute) by corruptly influencing witnesses before the ICC and presenting evidence that they knew to be false or forged. 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.
Commentators are celebrating the arrests. Mark Kersten, for example, writes that they “will likely (and hopefully) have a significant impact on the conduct of counsel – both prosecution and defence – with respect to the treatment of evidence and witnesses during trial.”
If Bemba’s lead counsel and case manager are guilty of witness tampering and manufacturing evidence, they deserve to be punished. But I’ll say this: the OTP better be right. Because if they are not — and all four arrestees are, of course, presumed innocent — the Court has deprived Bemba of his right under Art. 55(2)(c) of the Rome Statute to have “legal assistance of his choosing” and crippled his defense in the middle of trial. Lead counsel plays a critical role on a defence team, and in many ways a case manager plays an even more important role. So I have no idea what happens now with Bemba’s trial — although I suspect the Court will pretend new lawyers can simply slide into the roles previously occupied by the arrested lawyers, perhaps adjourning the trial for a month or so to give the new lawyers time to “get up to speed.”
Just curious: are the commentators celebrating the arrests willing to go on record and say that, if Bemba’s lawyers are acquitted, Bemba is entitled to a new trial when he is convicted?