AMSTERDAM/NAIROBI (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court said on Wednesday it had issued an arrest warrant for a Kenyan charged with trying to bribe witnesses to withdraw testimony against Deputy President William Ruto.
Walter Barasa, a journalist in Ruto’s political stronghold of Eldoret, northwest of Nairobi, told Reuters he denied the charges and said police had not tried to detain him.
There was no immediate comment from Kenyan police.
Kenya’s Attorney-General said the arrest warrant would be subject to “judicial consideration” before a decision was taken on whether to enforce it.
Ruto, who went on trial at the ICC last month, and President Uhuru Kenyatta are charged with orchestrating violence that swept Kenya after contested elections in 2007, in which 1,200 people were killed. Kenyatta’s trial starts in November.
Kenya has called for the cases to be dropped or moved closer to home. It has also rallied African support against the ICC, which has until now charged only Africans. The arrest warrant will test Kenya’s stated commitment to cooperate with the court.
Several witnesses have withdrawn, with prosecutors alleging intimidation. Other arrest warrants for people trying to disrupt the case could be issued, they said. Defense lawyers deny intimidation or any illegal attempts to influence the trials.
In March, the case against Kenyatta’s co-accused, former civil service head Francis Muthaura, collapsed after a key witness decided not to testify.
In a court filing, prosecutors said Barasa had been charged with three counts of influencing or seeking to influence witnesses. One count alleged he had paid a prosecution witness and her husband 1.4 million shillings ($16,200) to withdraw testimony.
“The evidence collected so far indicates that there is a network of people who are trying to sabotage the case against Mr. Ruto et al by interfering with prosecution witnesses,” ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement, adding that Barasa faced a fine, five years in prison or both if found guilty.
“There could be other people that we will issue warrants against,” she told a news conference, adding that this would depend on the continuing investigations.
An attempt to have Barasa arrested in a third country had failed, she said, without naming the country, adding that it was now up to Kenyan authorities to detain him.
Kenya, as a member of the court, was obliged to obey the warrant, regardless of any hearing in the country, Bensouda said.
“Some countries do require a court hearing before carrying out the transfer, but the outcome of that court hearing should be Barasa’s transfer,” she said.
Kenya said the procedure for enforcing any warrant issued by the International Criminal Court against any Kenyan is subject to review by the country’s judiciary.
“During the judicial consideration of the legality of the warrant, the subject is entitled to make representations to the court,” said Attorney-General Githu Muigai in a statement, responding to the warrant against journalist Walter Barasa.
“The final determination on the enforceability of the warrant is therefore a judicial one.”
Barasa told Reuters by telephone: “I deny any such charges.”
“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,” the 38-year-old said.
Barasa said an ICC investigator visited him last month and warned him against working with Ruto, something he denied doing.
Nick Kaufman, Barasa’s lawyer at the ICC, said he was surprised the arrest warrant had been made public before Ruto’s lawyers had cross-examined witnesses, because it risked creating the impression it was aimed at influencing the trial.
Ruto’s trial resumed on Wednesday, after an adjournment to allow the deputy president to help handle the attack on a Nairobi shopping mall on September 21.
Writing by James Macharia and Edmund Blair; Editing by Andrew Heavens