Updated at: 10/02/2013 10:35 AM
By TOBY STERLING
(AP) 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 Wednesday 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 Mr. 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 Sept. 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.
Prosecutor Bensouda said she hopes Barasa’s arrest warrant will 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.
AP correspondent Tom Odula contributed from Nairobi.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)