THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The lead lawyer for former Congo Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba and three other suspects have been arrested on suspicion of presenting false evidence in Bemba's trial at the International Criminal Court, the court said Sunday.
The announcement signaled the court's latest move to crack down on false evidence and witness manipulation in its on-going trials. Last month, judges unsealed an arrest warrant for a Kenyan journalist accused of influencing witnesses in the cases of Kenya's president and deputy president.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda welcomed the arrests, saying they should "serve as a warning to would-be perpetrators that my office will not hesitate to bring the full force of the law to bear against cynical — criminal — attempts to deny victims of massive crimes the justice they deserve."
Bemba has been on trial at the Hague-based court since November 2010 on charges of murder, rape and pillaging during fighting in the Central African Republic. He has pleaded innocent. Bemba's lawyer, Aime Kilolo Musamba, was arrested in Belgium over the weekend and will be transferred to the Netherlands. Bemba's legal case manager, Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, a defense witness, Narcisse Arido, and a Congo lawmaker, Fidele Babala Wandu, also were arrested on suspicion of presenting false documents and bribing witnesses.
Wandu, who is also deputy secretary general of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo political party, was detained in Congo and was being transferred to The Hague. Bemba is a former leader of the party, once a rebel group in the African nation.
The court said the suspects were allegedly "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."
Bemba, who is in custody in The Hague, also faces charges linked to the alleged false evidence conspiracy. Bensouda said he allegedly "ordered, solicited and induced these attempts to pervert the course of justice in relation to his on-going trial."
If convicted, the suspects face a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment and a fine.