A bank account opened in Charles Taylor’s name and worth millions of dollars was operated to fund “covert” operations on behalf of the government of Liberia – it was not a personal account used to squirrel away money for himself from activities including the trading of arms in exchange for Sierra Leone’s diamonds, as prosecutors’ allege — the accused former Liberian president told the Special Court for Sierra Leone today. Prosecutors today challenged Mr. Taylor on the truthfulness of this claim.
“This account is a covert account opened by the government of Liberia at this time. It had to be opened in my name,” Mr. Taylor told the judges today when confronted by prosecutors about the existence of an account in his name.
Prosecutors have been seeking to impeach Mr. Taylor’s credibility as a witness testifying in his own defense. From July 14 to November 10, 2009, Mr. Taylor testified as a witness in his own defense, during which he denied all allegations against him, including that he enriched himself through receipt of Sierra Leone’s conflict diamonds from Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels. Prosecutors say that Mr. Taylor stashed away huge amounts of money and stored them in numerous bank accounts. Mr. Taylor has denied operating any secret accounts and has challenged prosecutors to bring evidence of any secret accounts that bear his name. On Friday, prosecutors disclosed to the defense several documents, some of which allege that Mr. Taylor operated an account with the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI).
When court resumed today, prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian read portions of Mr. Taylor’s past statements in which he challenged anybody to bring evidence of any secret account that he is alleged to have operated.
“I challenge any human being on this planet to bring one bank account that I have money there. If anyone on this planet knows of any asset or bank account anywhere, I authorize you to come forward. There are no bank accounts in the world that I have. If anyone can bring any evidence that Charles Taylor has money in a bank account, then Charles Taylor is a liar,” Mr. Taylor was quoted as having said in his direct-examination on July 20, 2009.
After Mr. Taylor’s assertion that he did not have a personal bank account at the LBDI, prosecution counsel Mr. Nicholas Koumjian read from an LBDI document dated December 8, 1999 and indicating the opening of a new bank account with account number 00201-32851-01. The document indicated the person opening the account as “Charles G. Taylor”, home address “White Flower” and business address as Executive Mansion, with an initial deposit of 1,000 United States Dollars (USD). The appended signature on the document was Mr. Taylor’s.
“It is my signature,” Mr. Taylor agreed with Mr. Koumjian.
Mr. Koumjian also submitted a “checking account signature card” dated December 15, 1999 with Mr. Taylor’s signature as well as a second authorized signatory named Khadiatou Darra. Mr. Taylor agreed that the details on the card were correct. Ms. Darra served as personal assistant to Mr. Taylor while he was president of Liberia.
Mr. Koumjian further read that as of July 17, 2000, a business operated by Dutch businessman Guus Kouwenhoeven deposited 1,999,975 USD into the account at LBDI. In June 2006, Mr. Koewenhoven was convicted in a Dutch court on charges of “arms smuggling and complicity in war crimes in Liberia,” but was acquitted on appeal in March 2008.
Mr. Taylor responded that “I told this court that monies were deposited into a special operating account” but denied that the account belonged to him.
“I had no personal accounts. Khadiatou Darra and Charles Taylor had the same bank account. This account is a government of Liberia account. I am a signatory to that account, Khadiatou is a signatory. It is an operational account,” Mr. Taylor said.
“Why is this account in your name and stated as a personal account?” Mr. Koumjian asked Mr. Taylor.
“This account is opened by the Liberian government under my authorization. This account is a covert account opened by the government of Liberia at this time. It had to be opened in my name,” Mr. Taylor responded.
In response to Mr. Koumjian’s assertion that the account was opened in Mr. Taylor’s personal name and only listed Khadiatou as a co-signatory, Mr. Taylor said that “it does not matter.”
Mr. Taylor explained that the United Nations had imposed an embargo on the government of Liberia at this time and any transactions coming from a government of Liberia account for certain operations would have been blocked since the clearing house for LBDI’s foreign transactions was with Citi Bank in New York.
“And you put that account in the name of the president?” Mr. Koumjian asked Mr. Taylor.
“Yes, with the authorization of the legislature,” Mr. Taylor said.
The former president explained that monies were needed for covert operations like the purchase of arms and ammunition to confront rebel forces who were threatening to unseat his government in Liberia. He said that the Liberian legislature gave him authority to use “any and every means” to protect the Republic of Liberia and having a covert account to finance covert operations for the protection of the Liberian people was a necessary thing. He said that all monies that went into the government’s account at the Central Bank of Liberia were monitored by the International Monitory Fund (IMF) and World Bank.
Mr. Koumjian also pointed to records indicating that on March 30 2000, the “Embassy of ROC” in Monrovia deposited 3,500,000 USD into the same account. The “Embassy of ROC” was referenced as the Taiwanese embassy.
“I acknowledge that 3,500,000 went into this account,” Mr. Taylor said.
When asked by Mr. Koumjian why the government of Taiwan would want to “give covert money” to the government of Liberia, Mr. Taylor responded that “Because it was covert. That is it. It was covert and was used correctly and I am under no obligation to explain to you what covert operations included. It is for the Liberian people to ask me.”
In his direct-examination as well as his earlier cross-examination, Mr. Taylor has admitted that in 1996-1997, while preparing for presidential elections in Liberia, he received a personal donation from the Taiwanese government in the amount of 1,000,000 USD.
Mr. Taylor further told the court today that in 2000, amounts withdrawn from this covert account were used for the purchase or arms and ammunition from Serbia, in violation of a UN arms embargo on Liberia. The arms and ammunition, Mr. Taylor has consistently stated, were purchased to fight against rebel forces in Liberia.
Mr. Taylor said that the account was also used to pay salaries for the Special Security Service (SSS), the Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU), as well as to “carry out humanitarian acts on behalf of the president.”
“Covert military operations” were paid for under this account, Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Koumjian also read records of other transactions that were made with the account such as a debited amount of 917,000 USD, credited amounts of 6,975,500 USD, 3,400,000 USD and the withdrawal of 4,700,000 in about 68 transactions.
Mr. Taylor responded that “I was kept informed but I do not recall individual amounts. I do not remember the specific details.”
Mr. Taylor also said that he could not recall the source of 2,000,000 USD deposited into the account on December 4, 2000, records of which were read by Mr. Koumjian.
“I don’t recollect. This could have been from the government of Liberia,” Mr. Taylor said.
Prosecutors have sought to prove that Mr. Taylor enriched himself through his involvement in the conflict in Sierra Leone. It is alleged that Mr. Taylor received diamonds from RUF rebels and in return supplied them with arms and ammunition which were used to commit atrocities in Sierra Leone. The former Liberian president is accused of involvement in a joint criminal enterprise with RUF rebels and that he bears the greatest responsibility for crimes such as rape, murder and terrorizing the civilian population, committed by RUF rebels in Sierra Leone from November 30 1996 to July 18 2000. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations, asserting that his involvement in Sierra Leone was only for peaceful purposes in concert with other West African leaders. Upon his arrest and detention by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor declared himself partially indigent, indicating that he does not have money to pay for his defense. The court has been paying all bills related to the conduct of his defense. Prosecutors now seek to prove that Mr. Taylor lied when he testified that he does not have money in any secret bank accounts.
With the court rising today for its end of year recess, Mr. Taylor’s cross-examination will continue on January 11, 2010.