DRC's Bemba to file new ICC appeal: lawyer

Former vice-president of Democratic Republic of Congo Jean-Pierre Bemba (John Thys/AFP)
Former vice-president of Democratic Republic of Congo Jean-Pierre Bemba (John Thys/AFP)

Congolese ex-vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba will appeal his sentence for bribing war crimes witnesses and hopes to overturn his conviction in a case which has barred him from elections, his lawyer said on Wednesday.

The International Criminal Court on Monday confirmed a one-year sentence and $350 000 fine against Bemba for tampering with witnesses in his main trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Any fresh appeal will however come too late to get Bemba on the official list of candidates for the Democratic Republic of Congo's December 23 election, from which he has been barred by the bribery conviction.

"It is my intention to appeal the decision issued by the Trial Chamber" within the 30-day deadline allowed by the ICC, Bemba's lawyer Melinda Taylor said in an email to AFP.

Bemba has already lost an earlier appeal, but Taylor said Bemba had a right to make a fresh challenge as Monday's decision was by lower trial judges, and not the ICC's higher appeals chamber.

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"I have also identified several grounds of appeal which could, if upheld by the Appeals Chamber, result in the termination of the (bribery) case against Mr Bemba," she added.

Bemba was freed from a decade in jail in The Hague and made a triumphant return home after his separate conviction for war crimes and humanity was itself overturned on appeal in June.

He had been condemned in 2016 to an 18-year jail term for murder, rape and pillaging by his private army in the neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002-2003.

But the Congolese election commission has since excluded Bemba from December elections because of the the conviction for bribery, corruption and coaching 14 defence witnesses during his main war crimes trial.

The panel is expected to give the green light to opposition figures Felix Tshisekedi and Vital Kamerhe, as well as to Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a hardline former interior minister backed by President Joseph Kabila, Bemba's main rival.

Bemba was found guilty in 2016 in the witness tampering case along with four other people, and the ICC's appeals chamber rejected his appeal against the original conviction and sentence in March this year.

The appeals judges also sent the case back to trial judges for re-sentencing as they said the original penalties were too low, but the trial judges reconfirmed their earlier sentences on Monday.

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