International judges today sent a strong message that anyone caught trying to distort war crimes trials will be punished as they found former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba and four aides guilty of bribing witnesses.
The case was "about the clear, and downright criminal behaviour of the five accused... That resulted in serious offences against the administration of justice," presiding judge Bertram Schmitt told the International Criminal Court, handing down the verdict.
"No legal system in the world can accept the bribing of witnesses, the inducement of witnesses to lie or the coaching of witnesses," he told the five men.
"Nor can the International Criminal Court."
Each of the men stood in turn and remained impassive as Schmitt pronounced them guilty, although two of the defendants were acquitted on a few charges against them.
Today's verdict at the court in The Hague was the first such corruption trial in its history, and came after a tip-off to the prosecutors office.
Prosecutors charged that from his prison cell, the ex-rebel leader from the Democratic Republic of the Congo masterminded a network to bribe and manipulate at least 14 defence witnesses persuading them to lie during his main war crimes trial.
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