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Feb 12, 2:03 PM EST

ICC blocks use of 5 witnesses who pulled out of Kenya case



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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) -- International Criminal Court appeals judges ruled Friday that statements made by five witnesses who later changed their stories or refused to testify against Kenya's deputy president cannot be used as evidence.

The move is a blow to prosecutors trying Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto on charges of involvement in deadly postelection violence.

Judges last year allowed prosecutors to use the statements as evidence against Ruto and his co-accused Joshua Sang, saying the witnesses effectively pulled out of the case because of intimidation or bribes.

The decision hinged on legal arguments about the court rule used by prosecutors and the trial chamber to admit the statements. Appeals Judge Piotr Hofmanski said the rule was applied "retroactively to the detriment of the accused" and effectively threw out the five witnesses' statements.

Ruto and Sang, who were not in court Friday, have pleaded not guilty to charges of orchestrating violence after Kenya's 2007 presidential elections. Clashes after the flawed vote left more than 1,000 people dead and forced 600,000 from their homes.

Ruto's lawyer, Karim Khan, welcomed the decision but said the prosecution case was fatally flawed even if judges had allowed the statements to remain.

"With these statements or without these statements, there is no case to answer," Khan told The Associated Press. "The case has been brought against the wrong person on the basis of absolutely flawed investigations."

The prosecution office said it "is currently studying" Friday's decision.

Trial judges are also considering a motion by defense lawyers to drop the case for lack of evidence.

Attempts to prosecute the alleged ringleaders of Kenya's postelection violence have been repeatedly hit by allegations of witness interference or a lack of cooperation.

In December 2014, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda dropped all charges against President Uhuru Kenyatta and accused the Kenyan government of blocking her investigation. Bensouda also has charged three Kenyans with witness interference.

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