Former Democratic Republic of Congo vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba is demanding $76.5 million in compensation from the International Criminal Court following his war crimes acquittal last year, his lawyer said on Monday.
Lawyers said Bemba’s assets – including seven planes and three villas in Portugal – were “simply allowed to rot” by the court while he spent a decade behind bars in The Hague.
Last June, Bemba was acquitted of charges of murder, rape and pillaging committed by his private army in the neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002-3. A conviction for bribing witnesses was upheld.
“An innocent man lost 10 years of his life,” lawyer Peter Haynes said in a document sent to the ICC.
“The aim is to try to repair some of the damage done to this man and his family by his arrest, his detention and the related actions by the court and certain parties,” Haynes added.
Bemba returned to his homeland after his acquittal but was barred from running for the opposition in Congolese elections because of the bribery conviction.
The compensation demand adds to the troubles of the ICC, which was set up in 2002 to try the world’s worst crimes but has faced recent setbacks including the acquittals of Bemba and, in January, former Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo.
Haynes pointed out that the demand for $76.5 million “is just less than half the annual budget of the court.”
But Haynes said Bemba was willing to donate $24.72 million (22 million euros) – should he be awarded the full compensation – “to provide reparations to the people of the Central African Republic.”
This amount would come from the compensation claimed “for the loss of 10 years of his life.”
“For 10 years Mr Bemba’s assets, which includes amongst other things seven aeroplanes, three villas in Portugal and three parcels of land in the Congo and two boats were simply allowed to rot,” said Haynes.
Asked about who would foot the bill, Haynes said his client was entitled to compensation as stated in the ICC’s founding document, the Rome Statute.
“I would hope, and I’m sure the taxpayer would hope, that they sort out some insurance for that. It’s not Mr Bemba’s fault or my fault if they run their business in a way that they don’t try and get insurance for their liabilities,” he added.