NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 25 – The International Criminal Court Prosecution on Thursday said it had recorded conversations of intermediaries who were interfering with witnesses on behalf of Deputy President William Ruto.
Senior Trial Attorney Anton Steynberg told the court that because of bribery and intimidation, six of the prosecution’s witnesses recanted their evidence or refused to testify at the trial stage.
“We have evidence from certain witnesses relating to attempts to bribe them and in the analogy of attempts to bribe other witnesses but we don’t have the complete picture,” he explained.
The court further heard that the prosecution had gathered evidence from witnesses who disclosed that attempts had been made to bribe them.
“We have put up a number of recorded conversations which demonstrate the pattern of interference and also we demonstrate the link between the interference and persons who at least claim to be acting on behalf of Mr Ruto.”
The prosecution which was tasked by Presiding Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji to give strong reasons why original statements of the six witnesses should be admitted, explained that it had evidence to back its claims and warranted the request.
According to Steynberg, it was such interference that led to the withdrawal of one of its witnesses and five others to recant their original statements.
Steynberg explained that the prosecution had submitted adequate evidence to illustrate that there was a well calculated motive to interfere with witnesses which deprived the prosecution key evidence.
“The prosecution submits that the evidence we provided demonstrates a tapestry of intermeshing pieces of evidence establishing the existence of a scheme of witness interference relating to several witnesses,” he defended the lengthy application challenged by the judge.
Osuji however said the prosecution had a heavy task of defending its application by supporting it with quality evidence and arguments.
It has to give evidence establishing that there was witness interference and link it to the accused persons but at the same time establish that it led to the withdrawal or change of witnesses’ statements.
“We are looking at evidence of nexus to the accused directly or indirectly or evidence of concessions – the interference resulted in witnesses disappearing or dying maybe not even dying but concession in the sense that the witness has shown up but does not want to testify fully.”
In their oral submissions during the status conference held on Thursday Ruto and Sang’s lawyers challenged the prosecution’s allegations that the accused had interfered with witnesses.
“None of these interferences come from the defence. A lot of these interferences are schemes by individuals, they are often intermediaries and prosecution witnesses to make money,” Ruto’s lawyer Karim Khan said.
Khan asked the judges to be alive to the relocation promises made to the witnesses during recruitment explaining that it could have been a factor that enticed them to testify.
He further argued that the prosecution had itself admitted that it had withdrawn some witnesses because they had given false evidence and that they were unreliable.
The lawyer further accused the prosecution of failing to do its work at the time of recruiting its witnesses arguing that witnesses were not cross-examined to ensure they were reliable and that their evidence was credible.
Khan further argued that the prosecution’s evidence was inconsistent and had ‘massive’ contradictions right from the recorded statements to the trial stage.
Khan and Sang’s lawyers also told the judges that the ‘level of prove beyond reasonable doubt’ should be a prerequisite in the prosecution’s request to apply rule 68.
Sang’s lawyer, Katwa Kigen challenged the judges to determine which of the different versions of evidence given by the witnesses could be believed – the original statement or the one submitted at the trial stage.
“Our concern is which of these two versions is true. Is it the version they came and testified on which we were able to cross examine them on or is the version that the prosecution wants to introduce in behind an opportunity for them to adduce evidence in chief by a way of declaring hostile witnesses,” he queried.
Victims Legal Representative Wilfred Nderitu on the other hand based his argument on the case against Congolese rebel group leader Thomas Lubanga saying original statements were admitted.
Trial Chamber V (a) judges are expected to make a decision by mid next month if the prosecution will be allowed to apply rule 68 which will see original statements of six witnesses admitted as evidence.
Steynberg on Thursday told the court if the application is rejected, the prosecution will lose significant incriminating evidence in its case against Ruto and Sang.