International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda admitted Thursday she no longer had enough evidence to try Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta for crimes against humanity, calling for a delay after witnesses pulled out.
Kenyatta's repeatedly delayed trial on charges of masterminding violence after a 2007 election that left over 1,000 people dead and several hundred thousand displaced, is set to start on February 5.
Bensouda said she took the "exceptional" decision after a key prosecution witness against Kenyatta said he was no longer willing to testify and another key witness confessed to giving false evidence concerning a "critical event" in the case.
"Having carefully considered my evidence and the impact of the two withdrawals, I have come to the conclusion that currently the case against Mr. Kenyatta does not satisfy the high evidentiary standards required at trial," Bensouda said in a statement.
"I therefore need time to complete efforts to obtain additional evidence, and to consider whether such evidence will enable my office to fully meet the evidentiary threshold required at trial," she said.
"It is precisely because of our dedication and sense of responsibility to the victims in this case that I have asked the judges presiding over the case for more time to undertake all remaining steps possible to strengthen the case to ensure justice for the victims," Bensouda said.
The trials of Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, on similar charges have been dogged by problems and delays, including witness withdrawal and Kenya's campaign to have the cases put on hold.
Arguments include allegations that the court is targeting Africans and that Kenya's leaders need to be available to tackle Al-Qaeda-linked militants who have turned neighbouring Somalia into a major global jihadist hub.
Both men have pledged their cooperation with the ICC, but both have also complained that the cases, parts of which they are obliged to attend in the Netherlands, were hampering their running of the country.