Jean-Pierre Bemba. Picture: REUTERS
Jean-Pierre Bemba. Picture: REUTERS

Former Democratic Republic of Congo vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba will appeal against his sentence for bribing war crimes witnesses and hopes to overturn his conviction, his lawyer said on Wednesday.

The conviction has resulted in Bemba being barred from Congolese elections.

On Monday the International Criminal Court (ICC) confirmed a one-year sentence and €300,000 fine against Bemba for tampering with witnesses in his main trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Any fresh appeal will 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.

Bemba has already lost an earlier appeal, but his lawyer Melinda Taylor said he had a right to launch a fresh challenge as Monday’s decision was by lower trial judges and not the ICC’s higher appeals chamber. "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 was 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 conviction for bribery, corruption and coaching 14 defence witnesses during his 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. After losing his appeal in March 2018 the appeals judges sent the case back to trial judges for resentencing as they said the original penalties were too low, but the trial judges reconfirmed their earlier sentences on Monday.