Page last updated at 16:30 GMT, Monday, 26 April 2010 17:30 UK

Profile: Jean-Pierre Bemba

Jean-Pierre Bemba had an extremely privileged childhood in one of the world's poorest countries but this has not saved him from ending up on trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Court.

Jean-Pierre Bemba
Jean-Pierre Bemba's lawyers say he was not in command of fighters in CAR

Mr Bemba spent his youth between the Belgian and Congolese capitals - Brussels and Kinshasa - and the small remote town of Gbadolite in northern Democratic Republic of Congo known as "Versailles in the Jungle".

This was the home and last refuge of the late Congolese leader Mobutu Sese Seko.

Mr Bemba's father, the successful businessman Bemba Saolona, was very close to the former dictator.

But for him business was truly the first and only allegiance.

When Laurent Kabila's troops overthrew Mobutu and marched into Kinshasa in May 1997, Saolona was briefly appointed a finance minister in the new regime.

Difficult relationship

Father and son, however, have not always seen eye to eye.

Son of famous businessman
Former assistant to Mobutu Sese Seko
1998: Helped by Uganda to form MLC rebel group
2003: Becomes vice-president under peace deal
2006: Loses run-off election to President Joseph Kabila but gets most votes in western DR Congo
2007: Flees after clashes in Kinshasa

Mr Bemba, who at a very young age lost his mother and has had difficult relations with his father and stepmothers, explicitly criticised his father's acquaintance with Laurent Kabila in his book The Choice of Freedom.

A great admirer of controversial French businessman Bernard Tapie and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the young Bemba sought other father figures.

Perhaps his greatest influence was Mobutu himself, who employed him at the age of 30 as his personal assistant in the early 1990s.

Another person central to his roundabout journey to becoming DR Congo's vice-president was Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

As the government battled Rwanda-backed rebel groups in eastern DR Congo, Mr Museveni helped Mr Bemba open up a new front.

He supplied troops, equipment and training when Mr Bemba launched his rebel group, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), in 1998.

In only a few months, the MLC managed to capture northern DR Congo.

The military pressure he put on Laurent Kabila's regime eventually led to a peace deal that became the basis of a power-sharing government.

As a rebel leader, Mr Bemba became one of four vice-presidents.

Reign of terror

A characteristic Mr Bemba shares with his father is the knack of making money.

He holds an MBA from a prestigious business school in Brussels and kept his economic activities running throughout the war: looking after family-owned coffee plantations and wood factories.

Supporters of Jean-Pierre Bemba
Mr Bemba's supporters say he was cheated of election victory

Former allies claim most of Mr Bemba's fortune comes from gifts from African leaders such as Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.

Whatever the source, by the end of the war, the rebel-turned-politician had accrued enough wealth to buy a helicopter and several planes, which he sometimes likes to pilot himself and has since invested in DR Congo's aviation business.

He also became involved in external conflict, asked in 2002 by then CAR President Ange-Felix Patasse to put down a coup attempt.

It was the ensuing reign of terror, allegedly involving lootings, civilian killings and mass rape of hundreds of women by MLC fighters, which led the ICC to file charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against him as the group's leader.

His lawyers say the fighters were no longer under his command after they crossed the border.

After he laid down his arms in 2003, Mr Bemba was sworn in back home as a vice-president charge of finance in the interim administration.

He became increasingly influential, gaining the support of a number of historic political figures in DR Congo, and stood for the country's presidency in 2006 - against Laurent Kabila's son, Joseph.

But he was ultimately deserted by many allies who blamed his "oversized ego" for withdrawing their support.

He managed to take the incumbent to a second round, polling especially well in western DR Congo where many see the Swahili-speaking Kabilas as foreigners.

He claimed the run-off was rigged and was accused of refusing to disarm his militia and of unleashing violence in Kinshasa.

Mr Bemba has always denied the charges.

He was then accused of treason after his bodyguards and the army clashed in Kinshasa in March 2007.

He fled to his childhood retreat of Belgium but this time it was no safe haven.

He was arrested in May 2008.

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