AMSTERDAM — The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for a man suspected of witnesses tampering 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 the legal process.
Judge Cuno Tarfusser at the Hague, Netherlands-based court said Wednesday that 41-year-old Walter Barasa is suspected 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 Mr. Ruto ... by interfering with prosecution witnesses," Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a separate 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 could not immediately be located in Kenya for comment. If he is arrested by Kenyan authorities and turned over to the ICC, its 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, he could face a prison sentence of up to five years.
Bensouda said she hoped the arrest warrant would serve as "a warning to others who may be involved in obstructing the course of justice through intimidating, harassing, bribing or attempting to bribe ICC witnesses." She said, "My office will continue to do everything it can to ensure that witnesses are able to present their evidence before the court without fear."
Ruto has pleaded not guilty to charges of crimes against humanity for allegedly orchestrating violence in the aftermath of Kenya's 2007 presidential election. His trial resumed Wednesday after a two-week recess granted for him to return to Kenya to assist in the crisis surrounding the terrorist attack and hostage-taking incident at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
Kenya's president, Uhuru Kenyatta, is also facing trial at the court for crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and deportation, for allegedly organizing attacks on supporters of his political rivals in the 2007 election. He denies all charges.