Charles Taylor today denied stashing away huge amounts of money, allegedly earned through through illicit diamond trading with Sierra Leonean rebels during the country’s 11-year conflict, in secret bank accounts around the world – and challenged his accusers to prove any such accounts existed.
“I challenge the prosecutor to bring any evidence of a bank account that I have — they know it’s a lie but they keep repeating it,” Mr. Taylor said during his testimony at the Special Court for Sierra Leone today. “I ask anyone on this planet, if you know of any account that I opened or if you know anyone who was acting in my interest, you are obliged to come forward and say it.”
“What bank account has the UN found out for me?” Mr. Taylor asked. “Nobody ever brings factual evidence but it is repeated, repeated and repeated, and you can never put things straight.”
The Special Court for Sierra Leone’s prosecution team has alleged that Taylor benefited from diamonds mined by Sierra Leonean rebels, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), during the country’s civil war, and that Mr. Taylor hid the proceeds in secret bank accounts. The prosecutor has been working with the UN Sanctions Committee to recover any moneys and assets, if at all they exist.
Yet evidence disproving these allegations might take a long time to emerge, Mr. Taylor told the court. “I may be dead and gone before s0mebody will say Taylor did not have any money or assets all over the world,” he said.
Mr. Taylor also denied allegations that he gave support to the RUF to attack the diamonds fields in Kono and that he helped the rebels plan the January 1999 attack on Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. Asked by his defence counsel Courtenay Griffiths whether he had anything to gain from these attacks, Mr. Taylor said “absolutely nothing. The allegation is false. I had everything to lose in the process if anything like that happened.”
Speaking about the January 1999 attack on Freetown, Mr. Taylor told the judges that “I was shocked and angry as anybody else to hear of that attack.”
Mr. Taylor, however, did admit that in September 1998, he invited RUF commander Sam Bockarie to Liberia and gave him some amount of money. He explained that such invitation was purely meant to convince him to end the war in Sierra Leone and that the money given to Bockarie was purely as a gift, not for the purchase of arms and ammunition.
“When you come, presidents will, what they do, we do envelopes, may be one or two thousand dollars, we give it to you for you and your boys to go and have a good time, may be buy some new jeans, some sneakers, that kind of thing,” Mr. Taylor told the court.
Asked by his defense counsel whether the money was for the purchase of arms and ammunition, Mr. Taylor responded with an emphatic “no.” Mr. Taylor also denied giving any other gifts such as satellite phones or vehicles to Sam Bockarie or promoting Bockarie to the rank of Brigadier General.
“There is no such thing as Taylor having money, assets or transferring arms and ammunition to Sierra Leone. They have reduced me to a petty thief or petty thug,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor is being tried on allegations of his support for the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. The prosecution has alleged that he supplied arms and ammunition to RUF rebels in return for Sierra Leone’s diamonds, that the rebel commanders in Sierra Leone were directly answerable to him and that by his acts or omissions, he is responsible for the crimes committed by the rebels in Sierra Leone during the country’s conflict. Mr. Taylor has denied all these allegations.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues tomorrow.