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Cablegate: Nlandu and Nine Others Acquitted On Insurrection

VZCZCXRO5482
PP RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHGI RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHKI #0502/01 1241011
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 041011Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY KINSHASA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6079
INFO RUEHXR/RWANDA COLLECTIVE
RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
RUFOADA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KINSHASA 000502

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KDEM KJUS CG
SUBJECT: NLANDU AND NINE OTHERS ACQUITTED ON INSURRECTION
AND WEAPONS CHARGES

REF: A. 06 KINSHASA 1882

B. KINSHASA 279

1. (SBU) Summary: Congolese politician Marie-Therese Nlandu
and nine co-defendants were acquitted April 30 of all charges
related to the November 2006 burning of the Supreme Court
building. A military court found that the prosecution had
not presented evidence sufficient to prove their guilt. The
head judge called for changes to Congolese law regarding
trial of civilians by military courts. Nlandu's lawyers
expressed satisfaction with the outcome. Nlandu called for
the release of "political prisoners." End summary.

2. (SBU) Marie-Therese Nlandu, who received a handful of
votes in the July 2006 first-round presidential election (far
less than even one per cent of the total), and all nine
co-defendants were acquitted of insurrection and weapons
possession by a military court April 30. European-based
human rights organizations had made the trial an
international cause celebre since Nlandu, a member of an
influential Mobutu-era family now based in London, was
arrested November 21 (ref A) following the burning of the DRC
Supreme Court building by supporters of presidential
runner-up Jean-Pierre Bemba. Military Prosecutor Homere
Nkulu had recommended that Nlandu and seven co-defendants be
sentenced to 20 years in prison with 12 months of prison for
her driver and acquittal for her press attache.

3. (U) In announcing the verdict, the court's presiding
officer, Major Mbokolo, made clear that deficiences in the
government's case had won Nlandu and her co-defendants their
freedom. Speaking to Nlandu directly, he noted that he could
not say she was in the wrong, but just that the case against
her did not succeed in proving that she was. Mbokolo said
the burning of the Supreme Court, the key event leading to
the charges, took place after six of the defendants had
already been arrested. He noted that police had not properly
handled the paperwork or chain of custody of the grenades
allegedly found in Nlandu's vehicle, which were the source of
the weapons possession charge. And he said the prosecutor
had not proved intent by any of the defendents to participate
in an insurrection.

4. (SBU) The court apparently viewed the prosecution's case
as so weak that it was unable to convict even the three
defendents known to have engaged in questionable activities.
Evidence presented by the prosecution in fact provided strong
indications "Pastor" Jose Inonga was recruiting soldiers for
Jean-Pierre Bemba. The defendants' attorneys told us Edganga
Fataki and Basisa Ilyonda, both former members of the
Mobutu-era army, had been arrested in the act of setting the
Supreme Court building on fire. The remaining six defedants
were employees of Nlandu, including a driver, several
bodyguards, and a publicist,

5. (SBU) Surrounded by family and supporters outside the
court after the verdict, Nlandu called for the government to
release other "political prisoners" held in several Kinshasa
prisons. She was referring to an unspecified number of
"opposition" prisoners arrested during the past six months
and called the conditions of their incarceration
"unacceptable." (Comment: The conditions of all prisons in
the DRC are indeed unacceptable. End comment.)

6. (SBU) In contrast to warnings by international human
rights groups that Nlandu could never receive a fair trial,
chief defense lawyer Joseph Mukendi praised the military
justice system, quoting a Latin proverb, "weapons must yield
to justice." The organizations had repeatedly petitioned the
government to release Nlandu before evidence had even been
presented.

7. (SBU) Another defense attorney, Didier Kashala, told us
in March that the defense team had grown confident of
eventual acquittal when the court repeatedly postponed
hearings (ref B), delaying the trial by more than a month. A
human rights advocate told us that same month that she viewed
the postponements as a sign the government wanted to quietly
dismiss the case.

8. (SBU) In his statement, Mbokolo called for a law defining
the competence of military tribunals to judge civilians.
Human rights organizations had called Nlandu a "political
prisoner" because she was being tried by a military court,
which has jurisdiction under current Congolese law for all

KINSHASA 00000502 002 OF 002


offenses involving "weapons of war" (e.g. grenades).
Nlandu's attorneys had sought dismissal of the case based on
the 2006 DRC constitution, which forbids trial of civilians
by military tribunals. However, MONUC's Rule of Law section
chief told us that the constitution also stipulates that
previous laws would remain in place until "organic laws" are
enacted to change them. (Note: In an unrelated trial, the
DRC Supreme Court upheld the legality of military trials of
civilians under current law. End note.)

9. (U) Comment: The DRC Supreme Court burned, and police
arrested suspects; they were tried and acquitted based on the
evidence. This is a good signal for Congolese justice.
Deficiencies in the prosecution case were obvious during the
trial, observed in-person by Poloff. Prosecutor Nkulu all
but admitted some of the defendants had been tortured; he
regularly made unsubstantiated and illogical claims about the
defendents; and his theatricality drew rebukes not just from
the defense but from the panel of judges as well. End
comment.
MEECE

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