The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Wednesday said it had issued a warrant for the arrest of a Kenyan for allegedly trying to bribe witnesses to drop their testimony in the crimes against humanity trial of Deputy President William Ruto.
Walter Barasa, 41, "is charged with several
offences against the administration of justice including corruptly influencing or attempting to corruptly influence ICC witnesses," the Hague-based ICC said in a statement.
Former journalist Barasa has allegedly "been and is still acting in furtherance of a criminal scheme devised by a circle of officials within the Kenyan administration," the court said, without elaborating.
The warrant, a first by the 10-year-old court for alleged witness interference, was issued on August 2 but the court only decided to make it public on Wednesday.
Barasa allegedly offered to pay three witnesses at least 1.4 million Kenyan shillings ($16,000, 12,000 euros) 'to withdraw as ICC prosecution witnesses in the context of the Kenyan cases'.
Barasa is described in court documents as a 'former intermediary for the prosecution' in Kenya, meaning he liaised between witnesses and ICC prosecutors.
ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has said in the past that witness intimidation in cases against Kenya's two top politicians has reached 'unprecedented levels'.
"It is the prosecutor's submission that attempts to interfere with prosecution witnesses 'have escalated both in frequency and seriousness'...between 20 May and 25 July 2013, making it necessary to proceed to the arrest of Walter Barasa on an urgent basis," prosecutors said in their application for the warrant.
When contacted by AFP, Barasa denied the charge and said he had never met Ruto.
"I have not violated any law... Why should I be arrested?" he said.
He alleged that an ICC investigator had tried to get him to confess to working for Ruto.
"I told him to go ahead and issue the warrant," Barasa said.
If found guilty of using bribes or threats to influence witnesses, Barasa could face up to five years in prison and a fine.
Bensouda called on the Kenyan authorities to arrest Barasa and hand him over to The Hague to face justice.
"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," 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 Office continues to investigate."
Ruto went on trial last month, the highest-ranking official to do so, on charges of masterminding some of the 2007-08 post-election violence in Kenya, that left over 1,000 people dead and several hundred thousand displaced.
Ruto, 46, and Kenyan radio boss Joshua Arap Sang, 38, stand accused of stoking the worst violence in the east African country since independence in 1963.
Both Ruto and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who also goes on trial on November 12 on similar charges, have pledged their cooperation with the court and are maintaining their innocence.
The court briefly excused Ruto from his trial last week so he could return to Nairobi to deal with the aftermath of the Westgate shopping mall siege.
Ruto was back in court on Wednesday.
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