Acquitted DRC VP Jean-Pierre Bemba returns to Belgium, ICC says | News | DW | 16.06.2018
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Acquitted DRC VP Jean-Pierre Bemba returns to Belgium, ICC says

Jean Pierre-Bemba, who was acquitted of war crimes a week ago, has arrived in Belgium following his release from ICC detention. He still awaits sentencing in a secondary trial for bribing witnesses.

Jean-Pierre Bemba, a one-time warlord and the former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has arrived in Belgium after his acquittal on appeal of war crimes, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague said on Friday.

The ICC said Bemba, 55, was "released provisionally and on specific conditions," the court said in a statement. A lawyer representing Bemba confirmed that he was in Belgium.

Bemba had been released from ICC detention on Wednesday, but remained under court supervision pending approval of Belgian authorities for him to join his wife and children in Brussels.

Surprising acquittal

Last Friday, ICC appeal judges overturned Bemba's 2016 conviction, when he was found guilty of two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes. The court ruled that he could not be criminally liable for the crimes committed by his troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002 and 2003.

Read more: Bemba's ICC acquittal may bode ill for court's future

Listen to audio 29:59

Africa Link on Air - 08 June 2018

Bemba sent his militia into the CAR in October 2002 to assist then-President Ange-Felix Patasse, who was battling a series of coup attempts in the early 2000s. Patasse was eventually overthrown in 2003 and spent six years in exile in Togo.

Bemba was arrested at the ICC's request in 2008 and has spent the last decade behind bars.

During his trial in June 2016, ICC judges said he failed to stop a series of "sadistic and cruel" rapes and murders as well as pillaging by his soldiers when he was one of four vice presidents in the DR Congo's transitional government from 2003 to 2006.

The ICC sentenced him to 18 years in prison, the longest sentence ever handed down by the court. He appealed the decision in September 2016, denying responsibility for the crimes.

Awaiting bribery hearing

Bemba's provisional release is due to a separate witness tampering case, in which he received a one-year jail sentence and was fined €300,000 ($350,000) in 2017 for bribing witnesses of his war crimes' trial.

Listen to audio 29:59

Africa Link on Air - 13 June 2018

The ICC has yet to decide on a new jail term after denying Bemba's appeal for the conviction, which carries up to five years in prison. The sentencing hearing is set to take place on July 4.

Peter Haynes, Bemba's attorney, had called his client's continued detention outrageous, given that Bemba has already served more time than the maximum sentence for witness tampering.

The ICC said the conditions of Bemba's provisional release include not making public statements regarding the case, providing notice of a change of address, and "surrendering himself immediately to relevant authorities" if asked by the court.

The court and the Belgian government signed an agreement in 2014 to allow for the interim release of detainees in the country.

Return to DR Congo expected

Because of the time he has already spent behind bars, many expect Bemba to return to the DR Congo in time for the country's presidential election on December 23.

Read more: Jean-Pierre Bemba squarely back in Congolese politics

A recent opinion poll found that Bemba, a member of the opposition Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC), would finish with 10 percent of the vote, behind two other opposition leaders.

Bemba is a long-time adversary of sitting President Joseph Kabila, who was supposed to give up the presidency at the end of 2016 but has repeatedly put off elections. Kabila said Tuesday that he would not seek a third mandate, thereby respecting the country's constitution.

Watch video 42:31

Cahier Africain (1)

dv/jm (AFP)

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