The Hague, Netherlands, Sep 17 – Former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba is to be sentenced Monday by international judges for bribing witnesses during an earlier war crimes trial, which led to him being excluded from running for DR Congo president.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague acquitted the businessman-turned-rebel leader on appeal for war crimes and crimes against humanity three months ago — but a second minor case has continued to haunt him and his political ambitions.
In June, a sharply divided five-judge ICC bench overturned Bemba’s 2016 conviction and 18-year jail term for murders, rapes and pillaging committed by his private army in the neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002-2003 and acquitted him.
However, Bemba and five co-accused were found guilty on appeal in March of bribery, corruption and of coaching 14 defence witnesses in the main trial.
Bemba, 55, was handed a year-long prison term and a 300,000 euro ($350,000) fine.
ICC appeals judges, however, then ruled that the sentences of up to two-and-half years were too low and sent the case back for re-sentencing.
Prosecutors called for a maximum five years to be imposed on Bemba, his lawyer Aime Kilolo and his legal case manager Jean-Jacques Mangenda.
The ICC is to hand down its new rulings at 1300 GMT on Monday.
– ‘Miniature-Mobutu’ –
In response to the corruption conviction, the Congolese Constitutional Court ruled that Bemba was ineligible to run in presidential polls on December 23.
He has already spent a decade behind bars during his trial and is thus unlikely to serve any more time.
After his June 8 acquittal in the main war crimes case, Bemba was provisionally freed by the ICC pending his sentencing in the corruption case.
It was unclear whether he would be present in court during Monday’s proceedings.
The bribery case has impeded the political ambitions of a man sometimes referred to as a “miniature-Mobutu”, in reference to the former Zaire’s long-time ruler who was ousted in 1997.
Bemba had declared his candidacy after making a triumphant return home last month, with tens of thousands of supporters turning out to greet him.
After being barred from the ballot by the election commission, the thick-set and imposing Bemba appealed the decision.
The Congolese Constitutional Court, however, in its ruling confirmed “the ineligibility of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo for suborning witnesses by resorting to bribery”.
Bemba in return denounced the elections as a “parody”.
In an interview published in the magazine Jeune Afrique on Monday, Bemba said that if the elections were democratic and the opposition united behind one candidate, he would support that person and “make them win”.
The former Belgian colony has not seen a peaceful transition of power since 1960.
But President Joseph Kabila, who has held office since 2001, has said he will not run again.
Some experts fear the current crisis may spiral into bloodshed.
Kabila, who took over in 2001 after his father Laurent-Desire Kabila was assassinated by a bodyguard, is an arch-foe of Bemba.
Kabila’s tenure over the vast mineral-rich country has been marked by a reputation for corruption, inequality and unrest.
Bemba lost presidential elections to Kabila in 2006 and was later accused of treason when his bodyguards clashed with the army in Kinshasa.
In 2007, he fled to Belgium, where he had spent part of his youth, before he was arrested on an ICC warrant and transferred to the court.