March 18, 2013 / 7:02 AM / 6 years ago

Kenyatta lawyers push international court to drop case

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Lawyers for Kenya’s president-elect, Uhuru Kenyatta, will push the International Criminal Court on Monday to drop charges against him after the case against his co-accused collapsed.

President-elect of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta waves to his supporters in front of a church in his hometown Gatundu March 10, 2013. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

The case against Kenyatta, on charges of crimes against humanity over bloodshed in the aftermath of Kenya’s 2007 election, has been further complicated by his victory in a ballot which was held largely peacefully this month.

The case is also an important test for the court, which was set up more than a decade ago as the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal but has only secured one conviction.

Kenyatta and former civil servant Francis Muthaura were among six suspects initially charged by ICC prosecutors with orchestrating violence after the 2007 election, when some 1,200 people were killed.

But on March 11, prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the decision of a key witness to recant testimony forced her to drop charges against Muthaura. She said that would have no impact on Kenyatta’s case, which was closely linked.

The status conference, or pre-trial hearing, was called by the judges in The Hague at 3 p.m. (10:00 a.m. EST) to look at the consequences of the withdrawal of the charges against Muthaura for the case against Kenyatta.

Kenyatta’s lawyers will call for the case against him to be dropped or at least postponed, said one lawyer who was familiar with the case but did not want to be quoted by name.

“The collapse of the case against Muthaura has a profound impact on the viability of the prosecution’s case against Kenyatta,” the lawyer said.

The prosecutions are based on a lot of the same evidence. Both men have always denied any wrongdoing.

Kenyatta, elected by a slim margin, faces a big challenge in bridging Kenya’s ethnic divides even without the court case. His opponent, defeated presidential contender Raila Odinga, challenged the election result in court on Saturday, alleging widespread ballot rigging.

Prosecutors could be expected to resist any moves to drop the charges against Kenyatta, which were brought by Bensouda’s predecessor.

However, lawyers for Kenyatta could also say the prosecution case has changed so much in the past year that the case should be moved back to the pre-trial “confirmation of charges” phase.

The prosecution would then have to show again that it has a strong enough case to go to trial.

Kenyatta’s lawyers have argued that so much information was disclosed by prosecutors at the last minute that the case is fundamentally different from the one judges initially approved.

Judges have not yet formally dropped the case against Muthaura.

Reporting by Sara Webb and Thomas Escritt; Editing by Matthew Tostevin

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