Pretoria (AFP) – The last of a group of Congolese nationals accused of plotting to assassinate Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila were acquitted in a South African court, a defence lawyer and media reported on Saturday.
Charges against 15 of the 20 men were dropped in November on the recommendation of the prosecution, over two years after their arrests.
This week the final four men behind bars were freed, with the fifth one, Etienne Kabila, the alleged ringleader of the plot and self-professed half-brother of Kabila, having been previously released on bail.
“There is no clear evidence of their intention to commit the alleged crimes,” said Pretoria High Court judge Billy Mothle in Friday’s ruling, according to the Pretoria News.
Police had arrested the suspects in February 2013, six months after an agent infiltrated their group. He filmed several meetings and exchanged emails over the alleged preparation for the coup.
But the defendants claimed they were the victims of a conspiracy between Kinshasa and the South African police.
It was a defence the judge agreed with.
“They [the police] used deceit and trickery to entice them to develop a plan that clearly didn’t exist,” Mothle said according to the newspaper.
The lawyer representing the men said the case exposed the vulnerability of refugees to economic exploitation.
“The court found that the state acted contrary to the constitution by encouraging the commiting of a crime,” Thesigan Pillay told AFP.
“They exploited their economic vulnerability by offering them huge amounts of money to take part in a coup.”
And while “ecstatic” with the outcome, Pillay said his clients had lost two years of their lives.