ICC seeks Walter Barasa arrest for Kenya 'witness tampering'

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda wants Walter Barasa immediately transferred to The Hague

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The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for a Kenyan journalist suspected of offering bribes to prosecution witnesses in the trial of Deputy President William Ruto.

There were reasonable grounds to believe that Walter Osapiri Barasa was "corruptly influencing" or trying to influence witnesses, a judge ruled.

This is the first time the ICC has issued such an arrest warrant.

Mr Barasa, 41, told the BBC he was ready to prove his innocence.

He told the Reuters news agency that police had so far not tried to detain him.

"I have not gotten in touch with any witnesses or anybody having any intention of asking them or bribing them to pull out of the case," he said, Reuters reports.

Mr Barasa is a former employee of People newspaper in Eldoret, the home town of Mr Ruto in north-west Kenya.

Kenya's violent elections

Clashes in the Mathare slum in Nairobi in January 2008
  • Then-President Mwai Kibaki declared the winner of December 2007 elections - Raila Odinga cries foul
  • Opposition protests lead to clashes with police and degenerate into ethnic violence across the country
  • More than 1,000 killed and 600,000 flee homes
  • Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta was in the Kibaki camp; accused of orchestrating violence against ethnic groups seen as pro-Odinga
  • Incumbent Deputy President William Ruto was in the Odinga camp; accused of targeting pro-Kibaki communities
  • Power-sharing deal signed in April 2008 after mediation by ex-UN chief Kofi Annan
  • Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto form alliance and win March 2013 election
  • Mr Ruto's trial started in September; Mr Kenyatta's due in November

The newspaper was recently bought by Mediamax Network Ltd. President Uhuru Kenyatta's family is the company's main shareholder.

Mediamax Network said it no longer employed Mr Barasa, AFP news agency reports.

Mr Ruto is on trial for alleged crimes against humanity and his case resumed at The Hague on Wednesday morning.

He denies the charges, which stem from allegations that he orchestrated violence after disputed elections in 2007.

President Kenyatta is due to stand trial on similar charges in November. He, too, denies the allegations.

'Sabotage'

Mr Barasa was allegedly "acting in furtherance of a criminal scheme devised by a circle of officials within the Kenyan administration", the ICC said in a statement.

In March, the ICC dropped charges against Kenya's former civil service head Francis Muthaura, a co-accused of Mr Kenyatta.

Some witnesses were too scared to testify and another witness had recanted his testimony, the ICC said at the time.

In court papers, prosecutors said Mr Barasa had offered bribes amounting to $16,200 (£10,000).

Judge Cuno Tarfusser ruled that Mr Barasa should be arrested and tried to ensure that he did not "endanger the investigation or the proceedings, and to prevent him from continuing with the commission of the crime", the ICC said.

Kenya's Attorney-General Githu Muigai said the warrant would come under "judicial consideration" before it was enforced.

"During the judicial consideration of the legality of the warrant, the subject [Mr Barasa] is entitled to make representations to the court," he added.

ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda called on Kenya to immediately arrest and transfer Mr Barasa to The Hague.

There was "compelling evidence" that he tried to bribe someone he thought was a witness in Mr Ruto's trial, she said.

Mr Barasa was part of a network trying to "sabotage" the case, Ms Bensouda alleged.

The arrest warrant was issued in August but made public only on Wednesday, partly to act as a warning to others that they could not get away with interfering with witnesses, reports the BBC's Anna Holligan from The Hague.

If found guilty Mr Barasa could face up to five years in jail.

Mr Barasa's lawyer Nick Kaufman told Reuters it was surprising that the warrant had been unsealed before Mr Ruto's lawyers cross-examined witnesses.

He said it risked creating the impression that it was aimed at influencing the trial's progress, Reuters reports.

At Mr Ruto's trial, the first witness, an alleged survivor of an attack on a church, continued giving evidence.

Anna Holligan explains why William Ruto is in court, in 60 seconds

The court was in closed session, with extra protection for the female witness after unprecedented attempts to expose her identity, our correspondent says.

She is said to have survived the attack on the Kiambaa Church in Kenya's Rift Valley region after the December 2007 election, marred by allegations of widespread rigging.

About 36 people were burnt to death in the attack, blamed on supporters of Mr Ruto.

The trial resumed on Wednesday after it was adjourned last week to allow Mr Ruto to return to Kenya to deal with the 21 September attack on the Westgate shopping centre in the capital, Nairobi.

The Somali Islamist group, al-Shabab, said it carried out the four-day siege, which left 67 people dead while a further 39 are still missing.

Radio executive Joshua arap Sang is standing trial alongside Mr Ruto, accused of whipping up ethnic hatred in the aftermath of the election.

He has pleaded not guilty.

Some 1,200 people died and 600,000 were forced from their homes during the conflict.

Mr Ruto is the first senior government official to be tried by the ICC.

He and Mr Kenyatta were on opposite sides in the 2007 election, but formed an alliance to win power in elections in March this year.

They said their alliance showed that Kenyans had resolved their differences, and the ICC was meddling in the country's affairs by pressing ahead with their trials.

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