Charles Taylor has denied stashing away huge amounts of money, allegedly earned 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 on Monday. “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.”
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. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
“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.”
“Bockarie did not seek orders from me. I did not seek to give him orders,” Mr. Taylor told the judges in The Hague.
The link between the two men and Bockarie’s RUF rebel group goes to the heart of the case against Charles Taylor in the Special Court: that is, whether Mr. Taylor was in control of the RUF’s actions in Sierra Leone during the war, including the crimes that were committed by the RUF, during the country’s conflict after 1996 – and whether Mr. Taylor had the power to stop those crimes or punish those who committed them.
The Prosecution has alleged that Mr. Taylor did give orders to Mr. Bockarie, and thus had effective control over the RUF forces at critical times during the Sierra Leonean conflict. Between 1997-1999, former RUF leader Foday Sankoh was jailed in Nigeria and during his absence, Sam Bockarie served as interim leader of the RUF. Several prosecution witnesses have testified that during Sankoh’s absence, Sam Bockarie used to take to take orders directly from Mr. Taylor and based on his advice, the RUF launched strategic operations such as the attacks on the diamond-rich town of Koidu in 1998 and Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown in 1999. Witnesses also testified that during this period, Sam Bockarie made several visits to Liberia based on Mr. Taylor’s invitation. During these visits, witnesses said that Mr. Bockarie travelled back to Sierra Leone with loads of arms and ammunition which the RUF used to cause mayhem against the people of Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied all these allegations.
Mr Taylor has sought to explain the nature of his relationship to Mr. Bockarie during his testimony in his own defense. On Monday July 3, 2009, Mr. Taylor told the Special Court that in September 1998, he invited Sam Bockarie to Liberia for the sole purpose of convincing him to end the war in Sierra Leone. He also admitted giving Bockarie an amount of money as a gift for him and his rebels.
“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.
In his testimony on Wednesday, Mr. Taylor again admitted that in October and November 1998, Sam Bockarie also went to Liberia. During his visit in October 1998, Mr. Taylor said that Bockarie met with him, together with other security officers of Mr. Taylor’s Liberian government, as well as with ECOWAS leaders. Mr. Taylor said that on this visit also, he assigned a guest house to the RUF where they stayed whenever they were in Liberia for the purpose of discussing the peace process in Sierra Leone. He said all members of the ECOWAS Committee of Five also had access to the RUF leaders at the guest house.
In November 1998, Mr. Taylor said Bockarie also visited Liberia en route to Burkina Faso. Asked about his knowlege of the purpose of the visit, Mr. Taylor said he was informed that Sam Bockarie was travelling with a delegation of RUF commanders to seek advice from Burkina Faso president Blaise Campaore on the peace process in Sierra Leone.
On Thursday, Mr. Taylor responded to prosecution allegations that he sent Liberians to fight alongside the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone and that he helped in planning the rebel attacks on Sierra Leone’s diamond rich town of Koidu in the Kono District in 1998 and the January 1999 attacks on the country’s capital Freetown.
Mr. Taylor told the judges that peacekeepers of the Economic Community of West Africa States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), who were based in Liberia, trained over 1000 Liberians and sent them to fight in Sierra Leone. Many of these Liberians were disarmed combatants who were paid and made to fight alongside the Kamajors, a Sierra Leonean civil militia that fought against rebels forces on behalf of the Sierra Leonean government.
“Some of these disarmed ex-combatants were trained and made to fight alongside the Kamajors. Even some of these Liberians are officers in the Sierra Leone army today,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor said that he was wrongly accused and made to take responsibility for the Liberian fighters in Sierra Leone. He said that when these allegations came up, he asked the United Nations to conduct an independent investigation to prove whether he had anything to do with the presence of Liberian fighters in Sierra Leone.
“I wanted a formal investigation to know who these Liberian fighters in Sierra Leone were, because I know I did not send them,” Mr. Taylor said. ”I tried to force an international investigation but it did not take place.”
Mr. Taylor said he called for the deployment of United Nations observers as well as Sierra Leonean and Liberian personnel to monitor the Sierra Leone-Liberian border. He asked the government of Sierra Leone to send undercover officers to Liberia to investigate whether he was sending Liberians to Sierra Leone to fight, Mr. Taylor said.
When the allegations of his support for Liberian fighters in Sierra Leone continued during the war, Mr. Taylor said that he threatened to quit the ECOWAS Committee of Five.
“I am doing my best, there are no Liberians that I have sent to Sierra Leone, but the allegations abound,” Mr. Taylor said. “So I am going to step out of the Committee of Five. We were just frustrated, we were tired, we were doing our best but nothing was changing.”
Other West African leaders prevailed on him not to quit the Committee of Five, he said, and he stayed.
Mr. Taylor also told the judges that on December 20 1998, he closed the Liberian border with Sierra Leone in order to prevent the movement of people between both countries for military purposes.
In response to prosecution allegations that he helped RUF rebels to attack Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown only weeks later, in January 1999, Mr. Taylor told judges that he “heard that the attack on Freetown was launched with the assistance of Liberian fighters.” Upon hearing this, Mr. Taylor said he immediately wrote a letter to the United Nations Secretary General to inform him that Liberia was not involved in the attack.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues on Monday.