Int'l court sentences Congo ex-vice president to extra year

AP News
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Posted: Mar 22, 2017 10:10 AM
Int'l court sentences Congo ex-vice president to extra year

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A former Congolese vice president was sentenced Wednesday to an extra year in prison and fined 300,000 euros ($324,000) for interfering with witnesses in his trial at the International Criminal Court.

Jean-Pierre Bemba, who already is serving an 18-year prison term for crimes committed in Central African Republic by a militia he commanded, was sentenced along with four members of the legal team.

They were convicted in October of offenses including corruptly influencing defense witnesses and presenting false testimony in Bemba's trial linked to atrocities in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003.

The four members of the legal team were given sentences ranging from six months to 2 1/2 years, but won't go to prison as the sentences were either shorter than the time they spent in pre-trial custody or were suspended. They all faced maximum sentences of five years.

Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said the sentences should act as a deterrent to prevent similar crimes in the future.

Bemba's legal team, which already is appealing his conviction, said in a statement that it would also appeal the sentence, saying he was "sentenced on the basis of factual findings that are unsupported by direct evidence."

Bemba remains in detention in The Hague pending the outcome of his appeals.

Prosecutors said in a statement that they would study the ruling and decide whether to appeal. The lawyers for the other defendants in the case also can appeal.

The prosecutors stressed that bringing charges focused on allegations of attempting to corrupt trials was important for the institution as it seeks to bring to justice perpetrators of atrocities around the world.

"The court's mandate is too important and its proceedings cannot be allowed to be derailed by such offenses against the administration of justice," the prosecution statement said.