The Curious Timing of the Bemba Arrests
Two of the four men arrested on suspicion of witness tampering and manufacturing evidence in the Bemba case appeared before the Court today, along with Bemba himself. Not surprisingly, defence counsel for the defence counsel focused on the various ways in which the arrests will prejudice Bemba’s case:
Meanwhile, defense lawyers for the accused stated that the new charges had harmed the defense case of Mr. Bemba, whose trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity started in November 2010.
Xavier-Jean Keita, who represented Mr. Kilolo-Musamba, said the defense would write to the judge and raise questions about the timing of the new case. The defense would also “raise issues about the consequences on the main case and also talk about the involvement of the prosecution because the Office of the Prosecutor is a fully-fledged party to the main case.”
Defense lawyers also said Mr. Kilolo-Musamba’s iPad and Blackberry were seized during his arrest, yet they contained “the entire defense strategy” in Mr. Bemba’s ongoing trial.
Cuno Tarfusser, the single judge handling the case, said the items would for now remain in the custody of the court’s registry. The prosecution would only have access to seized documents and items that related strictly to the new charges.
Mr. Kilolo-Musamba, 41, deplored the “strong-arm tactics” Ms. Bensouda employed. He said allegations of forged evidence could have been dealt with during the ongoing trial rather than through an arrest warrant.
“I was surprised to be deprived of my freedom given that I spend most of my time in The Hague within the premises of [the ICC] where I have my offices,” said Mr. Kilolo-Musamba. “If she had called me in advance, I would have attended the summons.”
He said at the time of his arrest, he was coming from a meeting related to an ongoing investigation to help him to identify handwriting experts, and radio transmission specialists who were on duty in Bangui when a disputed radio transmission was made.
“That is the issue at stake,” said Mr. Kilolo-Musamba, referring to the radio transmission and contested handwriting on an undisclosed document. “It is a shame the prosecution made use of these tactics and this way harmed the defense of Mr. Bemba in the main case, which has come to an end as we were already drafting the final submissions.”
Kilolo-Musamba’s point about the timing of the arrests is a good one. Given how easy it was for the Court to apprehend the four men — a point noted by Mark Kersten — why seek their arrest now, literally days after the defence finished presenting its evidence? There is no longer any threat of witness tampering or evidence manufacturing. All that remains is for the defence is to finish the closing briefs — a phase in which the involvement of Bemba’s lead counsel and case manager will be particularly important. The arrests couldn’t have waited a few months until the briefs were written and filed?
The question, then, is what happens now. I don’t see how the Trial Chamber can continue Bemba’s trial in the absence of the two attorneys; to expect Bemba’s other attorney, Peter Haynes QC (who is excellent), to write the closing briefs by himself is unrealistic. So if the Trial Chamber cares about Bemba’s right to a fair trial, it will have to suspend the proceedings until the new allegations are resolved. We’ll see if that happens.