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Former Congo VP convicted of interfering with witnesses

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The International Criminal Court on Wednesday convicted a former Congolese vice president and four members of his legal team of charges that they interfered with witnesses, saying the case should send a clear message that attempting to corrupt trials will not go unpunished.

The verdicts against Jean-Pierre Bemba and his legal team marked the first time the global court has found suspects guilty of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

“No legal system in the world can accept the bribing of witnesses, the inducement of witnesses to lie or the illicit coaching of witnesses. Nor can the International Criminal Court,” Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said after convicting the five men.

“Today’s judgment sends the clear message that the court is not willing to allow its proceedings to be hampered or destroyed,” Schmitt said. “It sends the message that those who try to distort and interfere with the administration of justice of this court do not go unpunished.”

Bemba’s attempts to influence his trial ultimately failed. Earlier this year, he was convicted and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment for commanding a militia that went on a deadly rampage in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003. He has appealed.

No date was immediately set for a sentencing hearing following Wednesday’s convictions. The maximum sentence is five years in prison.

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