Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. Picture: REUTERS
Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. Picture: REUTERS

The Hague — War crimes judges on Thursday rejected an appeal by former Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba against a bribery conviction, calling instead for a new jail term to be imposed.

The appeals judges ruled to "reverse" the sentences imposed on Bemba and two of his co-accused and "remand the matter to the original trial chamber for a new determination of their sentences".

Bemba, 55, had appealed against his conviction, a one-year jail term and a €300,000 fine imposed last year by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for bribing 14 defence witnesses to lie for him in his main war crimes trial.

It was the first such corruption case at the court in The Hague to be successfully prosecuted since it opened its doors in 2002.

The five appeals judges on Thursday dismissed all Bemba’s 12 grounds of appeal, finding instead in favour of the prosecution.

Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had also appealed, calling for a five-year term for all five defendants, saying the original sentences were "disproportionate", "manifestly inadequate" and did "not reflect the gravity of the offences".

Bemba, once a wealthy businessman, is also separately appealing his war crimes conviction and 18-year jail term

The appeals court agreed the original trial judges had not sufficiently considered the gravity of the crime, and also had "no inherent powers" to give other defendants suspended sentences.

"The appeals chamber has found that the trial chamber committed a series of errors with respect to the sentences pronounced" against Bemba, as well as his lawyer Aime Kilolo and his legal case manager Jean-Jacques Mangenda, said presiding judge Silvia Fernandez.

Bemba’s one-year term was to run consecutively to an 18-year sentence imposed in June 2016 for war crimes carried out by his marauding private army in the Central African Republic in 2002 to 2003.

His lawyer, Kilolo, was given two-and-a-half years and a €30,000 fine, while legal case manager Mangenda, got two years. Both sentences were originally suspended.

The appeals judges also upheld sentences against defence witness Narcisse Arido, who got 11 months and Congolese legislator Fidele Babala, who was sentenced to six months’ jail. Although they appealed their convictions, neither spent any time in jail as they had already been behind bars awaiting trial.

In an unusual move, ICC judges were on Thursday ruling in three appeals cases, including one brought by Congolese warlord Germain Katanga, who has been ordered to pay his victims $1m in damages.

Bemba, once a wealthy businessman, is also separately appealing his war crimes conviction and 18-year jail term, but no date for the appeals judgment has been set yet.