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Global court gives Congo's Bemba an extra year for witness bribing

By Stephanie van den Berg

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Judges at the International Criminal Court on Wednesday added a year to Jean-Pierre Bemba's 18-year jail term following the former Congolese vice president's conviction for attempting to bribe witnesses during his war crimes trial.

After a second trial on the separate charges, Bemba, who was vice president of Democratic Republic of Congo from 2003 to 2006, was also ordered to pay a 300,000 euro ($323,670.00) fine to the court's fund supporting victims of atrocities.

Several of the court's cases against prominent and powerful politicians have been weakened by witness bribery. Prosecutors blamed the collapse of a post-election violence case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on threats against witnesses.

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The decision to bring bribery charges against Bemba and four members of his legal team was seen by criminal law experts as a sign that prosecutors had decided to get tough on a practice that threatened their ability to prosecute the gravest crimes.

Bemba is appealing his conviction last year on charges of having committed war crimes by allowing his forces to go on a murderous rampage through the neighboring Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003.

His former lead lawyer, Aime Kilolo, was given a 30,000 euro fine and a two-and-a-half year suspended sentence. Three others were given either suspended jail terms or sentenced to time served.

Bemba and his co-accused were convicted of offences against the administration of justice by corruptly influencing 14 defense witnesses and coaching them to present false testimony.

Judges gave prosecutors and the defense 30 days to lodge an appeal.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg, writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Alison Williams and Ken Ferris)