, KINSHASA, Nov 25 – Four people close to former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba have been arrested on suspicion of tampering with witnesses in the ex-warlord’s war crimes trial in The Hague, the International Criminal Court said.
The chairman of Bemba’s opposition party the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) said ICC warrants were carried out against lawmaker Fidele Babala Wandu in Kinshasa and Bemba’s lawyer Aime Kilolo at Brussels airport.
The ICC confirmed a total of four arrests had been made, including for Babala Wandu and Kilolo, plus a member of Bemba’s defence team and a defence witness. Arrests on charges of witness tampering are a first in a case tried by the ICC.
Wandu was flown to The Hague late Sunday.
The three other suspects would be transferred later, according to the court.
MLC spokesman Germain Kambinga told AFP Wandu was arrested at his home overnight Saturday to Sunday by security forces holding the ICC warrants.
He was being held in the prosecutor’s office in Kinshasa. “We did not know about this warrant. We were all surprised, we are in shock,” Kambinga said.
Wandu is “suspected of witness tampering in the Bemba affair”, Kambinga said, adding Kilolo is accused of having “influenced witnesses in one way or another”.
Following news of the arrests, members of the MLC met with the president of the National Assembly, Aubin Minaku, to discuss the “regrettable incident”, Kambinga said.
The MLC later issued a statement denouncing the arrests which the group said had been carried out in violation of national law and the international court’s own rules.
It also denounced the speed with which Kinshasa had carried out the ICC’s wishes “while other wanted Congolese benefit from its ‘protection’.”
Babala Wandu, 57, was Bemba’s private secretary when he was DR Congo’s vice president from 2003 to 2006.
Bemba is on trial at the Hague-based court for three counts of war crimes and two of crimes against humanity for widespread atrocities committed in the Central African Republic by the DR Congo-based MLC between October 2002 and March 2003.
His troops allegedly murdered, raped and pillaged after Bemba sent them into the country in late 2002 to help put down a coup against then Central African president Ange-Felix Patasse.
Bemba has been detained by the ICC since 2008.
In The Hague, the ICC said in a statement that Wandu and Kilolo, as well as a member of the Bemba defence team, Jean Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, and a defence witness, Narcisse Arido, were detained in three European countries and the DR Congo under the arrest warrant issued Wednesday.
“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 by corruptly influencing witnesses before the ICC and presenting evidence that they knew to be false or forged,” the ICC said.
“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.”
The ICC said that Belgian authorities arrested Kilolo, the Dutch detained Kabongo and the French arrested Arido, while Wandu was arrested in the DR Congo.
They would all be handed over to the ICC.
The court added that “this warrant of arrest in respect of the same charges was also served on Jean-Pierre Bemba at the ICC’s detention centre”.