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12 June 2018, 02:42 | Erica Roy
Hague court judges overturn ex-Congo VP Bemba's war crime convictions
The global court on Friday overturned Bemba's war crimes conviction and 18-year prison sentence for alleged atrocities carried out by troops under his control in neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002-2003, meaning he could be released in a matter of days.
The Court of Appeals of the ICC acknowledged that the trial in first instance against the ex-leader made serious mistakes, so that the accused is completely free of criminal responsibility, according to the jurist.
He was acquitted after the Court of Appeal found, with objections from two judges, that the previous sentence had wrongly convicted him of criminal acts not related to the charges held against him.
Furthermore, in the view of the Appeals Chamber majority, there was an apparent discrepancy between the limited number of crimes within the case's scope for which Mr. Bemba was held responsible and the Trial Chamber's assessment of which measures he should have taken. The court called a status conference in his case for June 12, which Bemba's lawyer called "unacceptable" given that the maximum sentence on that charge is five years and Bemba has already been jailed for 10.
Bemba, who has already spent nearly a decade in jail, will not be immediately released from detention in The Hague after he lost a separate appeal against a conviction for bribing witnesses.
Mr. Bemba will, however, remain in detention on account of a different case in which he has been convicted of offences against the administration of justice, pending a decision of Trial Chamber VII, within the ICC.
Friday's decision was greeted by cheers from his supporters in the gallery.
In 2002, the then CAR President Ange-Félix Patassé, had invited Bemba, who was the Movement of Liberation of the Congo (MLC) President and Commander-in-Chief, to the country to prevent a coup. Judge Christine Van den Wyngaert, Presiding Judge in this appeal, read a summary of the Judgment during a public hearing. Haynes said he likely would join his family in Belgium.
Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende said that Bemba had the right to return home if released, Reuters reported.
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