By Susan Kendi
Kenyan lawyer Paul Gicheru has denied charges that he bribed or attempted to bribe six International Criminal Court (ICC) witnesses seven years ago.
Gicheru said this on Friday when he made his initial appearance at the ICC. He was at the court more than five years after an arrest warrant was issued against him. Gicheru was in court on Friday because at the beginning of the week he traveled to The Netherlands and surrendered himself to Dutch authorities.
“The allegations read to me are false. All [the] six [counts] are false,” said Gicheru. He made this statement on Friday but he was not required to. Gicheru will only be required to take a plea if the charges against him are confirmed. Such a decision is one of the possible conclusions of the pre-trial proceedings that began on Friday.
Before Gicheru denied the charges against him, Single Judge Reine Adélaïde Sophie Alapini-Gansou began the proceedings by confirming Gicheru’s identity. She then determined that English is the language Gicheru understands. Afterwards the judge asked for the charges to be read to Gicheru. She then also informed him of his rights as a defendant under the Rome Statute, the law that guides the work of the ICC.
As part of measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, Gicheru spoke via video link from the ICC Detention Centre where he has been since Dutch authorities had him over to the ICC on Wednesday. During Friday’s proceeding, Gicheru chose to represent himself but said he may decide to appoint a lawyer to represent him as the case progressed.
Senior prosecutor Anton Steynberg expressed concern about Gicheru’s decision to represent himself for the time being.
“Even if Mr. Gicheru is a lawyer in his domestic jurisdiction, I don’t think Mr. Gicheru appreciates the complexities of [the ICC] pretrial proceedings including the use of IT tools, pretrial filings and the issues to deal with disclosure. My issue, my Honour, is that you advise Mr. Gicheru on appointing counsel,” said Steynberg.
During Friday’s proceeding, Gicheru told the court that he was voluntarily appearing in court.
“I wish to confirm to the court that I surrendered myself to the Dutch authorities on 2 November 2020. This surrender was without coercion, it was voluntary. I did it at my own expense. There was no threat or coercion,” said Gicheru.
On Friday, Judge Alapini-Gansou said that there would not be any confirmation of charges hearings for the prosecution to present its evidence against Gicheru or for Gicheru to present a defence if he chooses to. She said that instead of hearings, the prosecution and defence will make written submissions on the evidence.
Judge Alapini-Gansou gave the prosecution up to February 12 next year to file the document containing the charges (DCC) and the list of evidence. The DCC includes the charges that are in the arrest warrant. It also includes details of the evidence the prosecution has to back the charges. Judge Alapini-Gansou said the defence would have up to February 26, 2021 to file its defence and list of evidence. She said the defence was not obliged to do so.
The judge also said the prosecution and defence should file their submissions by March 5, 2021. Judge Alapini-Gansou said the prosecution would then have up to March 22, 2021 to respond to the defence’s submissions and the defence would have up to March 29, 2021 to reply to the prosecution’s submissions.
Another issue that was discussed on Friday was the interim release of Gicheru. This discussion was closed to the public.
The arrest warrant (https://www.icc-cpi.int/Pages/record.aspx?docNo=ICC-01/09-01/15-1-Red) for Gicheru was issued in March 2015 and in it another Kenyan is named as a co-suspect, Philip Kipkoech Bett. In the arrest warrant Gicheru and Bett are alleged to have bribed or attempted to bribe six prosecution witnesses in 2013. The witnesses they are alleged to have tampered with are identified by pseudonyms. They are: P-397; P-800; P-516; P-495; P-536; and P-613.
The arrest warrant does not describe the witnesses as prosecution witnesses but the pseudonyms of five of them match those of witnesses who testified in the trial of Deputy President William Ruto and former journalist Joshua arap Sang. Ruto and Sang faced five counts of crimes against humanity for their alleged role in violence that erupted after the December 2007 presidential election.
In a 2-1 judgment, Trial Chamber V(a) decided in April 2016 to terminate the charges against Ruto and Sang after the prosecution had closed their case but before Ruto and Sang presented their defence. The judges said one reason they did this was because the prosecution evidence had deteriorated due to interference with witnesses and it was not possible to determine the innocence or guilt of Ruto and Sang.