In Summary
  • The heavy-set Congolese politician was acquitted on appeal Friday by the ICC, which said he could not be held criminally liable for crimes committed by his troops in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003.

  • The surprise decision came after Bemba, 55, had been sentenced unanimously to 18 years in 2016 by ICC trial judges after a decade behind bars following his arrest in Belgium.

  • Bemba's interim release relates to a separate case in which he was handed one-year jail sentence and fined 300,000 euros ($350,000) in 2017 for bribing witnesses during his main war crimes trial.

THE HAGUE,

International judges Tuesday ordered an interim conditional release of former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba who was acquitted last week of war crimes after a decade behind bars.

"Today... the International Criminal Court ordered the interim release under specific conditions for Mr Jean-Pierre Bemba," The Hague-based tribunal said in a statement.

ACQUITTAL

"Taking into account all relevant factors and the circumstances of the case as a whole, the Trial Chamber considers that the legal requirements for continued detention are not met," the court said.

The heavy-set Congolese politician was acquitted on appeal Friday by the ICC, which said he could not be held criminally liable for crimes committed by his troops in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003.

The surprise decision came after Bemba, 55, had been sentenced unanimously to 18 years in 2016 by ICC trial judges after a decade behind bars following his arrest in Belgium.

Bemba's interim release relates to a separate case in which he was handed one-year jail sentence and fined 300,000 euros ($350,000) in 2017 for bribing witnesses during his main war crimes trial.

He lost an appeal against that sentence and the ICC is yet to decide on a new jail term, which carries a maximum of five years. Sentencing is due on July 4.

Bemba's lawyer Peter Haynes said his client planned to return to Brussels to be united with his wife and five children.

CONDITIONS

But the ICC's judges allowed the former rebel commander-turned-politician to leave the court's detention unit at a Dutch prison in The Hague only if he adhered to strict requirements.

These included "surrendering himself immediately to relevant authorities" if asked by the court, refraining from making public statements on the case, not changing his address without prior notice and not contacting any witnesses.

The ICC's judges added the Congolese politician retroactively served "80 percent of the maximum possible sentence" therefore it was "disproportionate to further detain Mr Bemba merely to ensure his appearance for sentencing."  

The 18-year sentence in Bemba's main case was the longest ever to be handed down by The Hague-based court.

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