Judges at the International Criminal Court have ordered the interim conditional release of former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba. He is still awaiting sentencing next month in a secondary trial.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague has provisionally freed former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba following his surprise acquittal last week.
His interim release on Tuesday is related to a case in which he was handed a one-year jail sentence and fined 300,000 euros ($350,000) in 2017 for bribing witnesses during his main war crimes trial. He still awaits sentencing on July 4 in a secondary trial which he lost on appeal.
Bemba, a former warlord and adversary of Congolese President Joseph Kabila, won his main war crimes trial on appeal in which he was previously convicted and sentenced to 18 years for rapes, killings and looting committed by his militia in the Central African Republic (CAR).
According to the appeal judges, the 2016 verdict had "ignored significant testimonial evidence" that Bemba had had only limited ability to intervene.
The ICC's judges allowed him to leave the court's detention unit at a Dutch prison in The Hague only if he adhered to strict requirements.
Among those are "surrendering himself immediately to relevant authorities" if asked by the court, refraining from making public statements on the case, not changing his address without prior notice and not contacting any witnesses.
Bemba's lawyer Peter Haynes said his client planned to return to Brussels to be united with his wife and five children.
Bemba was the son of a rich businessman who was close to the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled from 1965 until he was ousted in 1997. He studied in Belgium, the former colonial master of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and went on to take over family businesses, building his wealth in sectors such as mobile phones, air freight and television.
Bemba left DRC in 1997 when the late rebel leader Laurent Desire Kabila, father of current president Joseph Kabila, overthrew Mobutu. A 1998-2003 war attracted foreign armies on rival sides into the central African nation known for its mineral wealth.
Bemba became the leader of the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) rebels, a 1,500-strong force backed by neighboring Uganda which was opposed to the Kabila regime.
He sent his fighters into the neighboring CAR in October 2002 to help put down an attempted coup against then president Ange-Felix Patasse. That move sparked a months-long campaign of horrific abuses by MLC troops against the civilian population — which would become the basis of the charges that would be laid against him in The Hague.
av/cmk (AFP, Reuters, AP)