GOMA – The International Criminal Court has sentenced one of the most prominent opposition leaders in Congo for bribing witnesses during his war crimes’ trial in the Hague.
The ruling means that Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, can not run for President in the upcoming elections in December 23.
Bemba was acquitted of war crimes on appeal in June this year but had not been cleared on a separate lesser charge of witness tampering during his trial.
Eva Bazaiba, the executive secretary of Bemba’s political party – the Movement for the liberation of Congo said Bemba could support another candidate from the opposition.
Congo opposition presidential candidates met in South Africa yesterday to discuss a possibility of fielding one candidate.
The ruling on Monday also ordered Bemba to pay a fine of 300 000 euros ($350,730).
However, his jail term was reduced to zero due to time of ten years already served in prison.
The high court in Congo had also barred Bemba, who has been one of the frontrunners challenging the ruling coalition from standing in December’s presidential election.
Following the court’s decision, Bemba denounced the December presidential election as a “parody” and accused President Joseph Kabila of trying to hand pick a successor by eliminating serious rivals.
Congo’s electoral commission says the electoral law does not allow Congolese people convicted on corruption charges to run for president.
Political analysts say excluding Bemba, popular politicians will likely trigger violence ahead of presidential elections.
Political observers and Bemba supporters argue results of presidential elections scheduled for December 23 will be regarded as illegitimate without Bemba’s participation.
Bemba, a former rebel leader and vice president, spent the last 10 years in prison in The Hague over war crimes offences.
Congolese authorities barred Moise Katumbi, another popular politician and a one-time Kabila ally, from entering the country to register as a presidential candidate.
The decision to disqualify Bemba and bar Katumbi from entering the country means that Kabila’s successor and the ruling party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, has a big chance to win the presidential elections.
Bemba is still regarded by many in DRC as a big political actor who forced President Kabila into a second round in Presidential elections of 2006.
Kabila has been in power since 2001 following the assassination of his father Desire Laurent Kabila and the central African nation is one the world’s poorest, most volatile and corrupt-riddled countries.