Amsterdam: The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for a man suspected of tampering with witnesses in the war crimes case against Kenya`s Deputy President William Ruto, the first time the court has sought to prosecute someone for interfering with its legal process.
The target of the warrant, Kenyan journalist Walter Barasa, denied the allegation.
The Hague, Netherlands-based court said today that Judge Cuno Tarfusser had issued an arrest warrant for Barasa, 41, on suspicion of attempting to bribe a potential witness.
"The evidence collected so far indicates that there is a network of people who are trying to sabotage the case against Ruto ... By interfering with prosecution witnesses," Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement.
"Walter Barasa, against whom compelling evidence has been collected, has been part of this network, and his actions fit into this wider scheme that the (prosecutor`s) office continues to investigate."
Barasa issued a statement in Nairobi saying he had been in contact with an ICC investigator named Paul Irani, acting as a go-between for Irani and a witness in the Ruto case. Barasa claimed that Irani and other prosecutors were trying to elicit false testimony from this woman and others to strengthen their case.
"They were carrying out armchair investigations in a hotel on the basis of information from people who were known gold diggers roaming the streets," Barasa said. He said he broke contact with the ICC investigators after they gave him an ultimatum last month to either depart Kenya for the Hague immediately to testify against Ruto or be charged with witness tampering.
"I am ready and prepared to defend myself against these allegations, which are false," he said. "I respect the court. I respect the rights of the accused persons to a fair hearing, and the victims` right to get justice. But I do not accept coercion and unorthodox means of implicating accused persons and conducting investigations to attain an unjust end."
Barasa said he recorded parts of a conversation he had with Irani on September 15, that would prove the journalist`s allegations and that he is prepared to produce them in court. If Barasa is arrested by Kenyan authorities and turned over to the ICC, judges are expected to charge him with "corruptly influencing and attempting to corruptly influence a person he believed to be a prosecution witness."
If convicted, Barasa could face a prison sentence of up to five years.