Charles Taylor did not give jailed Sierra Leonean rebel leader Foday Sankoh $20,000 in 1999, either as a “good gesture” or as a payment in exchange for safekeeping diamonds for his rebel group, Mr. Taylor told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges today.
“No I did not send Sankoh any money. If I had, it would have been a good gesture,” the accused former Liberian president said today in response to whether he ever gave Mr. Sankoh an amount of $20,000.
Mr. Taylor was responding to the evidence of a protected prosecution witness who said, in his 2008 testimony, that while the government of Sierra Leone and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels were in the Togolese capital Lome for peace talks in 1999, Mr. Taylor gave a member of the RUF external delegation, Ibrahim Bah, an amount of $20,000 for the RUF leader Mr. Sankoh. Mr. Taylor said today that this was not true.
“If I wanted to send money for Sankoh, I would have done so through the Liberian Foreign Minister who was in Lome. It would have been a good gesture just like Eyadema and Obasanjo did give him money, but I did not,” Mr. Taylor said. [Mr. Taylor was referring to former Togolese president, Gnassingbe Eyadema, and former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo].
According to the witness, Mr. Sankoh was very agitated upon receiving what he called “a peanut” from Mr. Taylor because Mr. Sankoh had received reports that RUF commander Sam Bockarie had given huge amounts of diamonds to Mr. Taylor during Mr. Sankoh’s incarceration. Between 1997 and 1999, Mr. Sankoh was in jail in Nigeria and in his absence, Mr. Bockarie acted as leader of the RUF. When rebels attacked Sierra Leone’s capital in January 1999, Mr. Sankoh was released and the government of Sierra Leone decided to hold peace talks with the RUF. This led to the signing of the peace agreement between the two parties in the Togolese capital Lome in 1999.
Prosecution witnesses have alleged that during Mr. Sankoh’s absence, Mr. Bockarie took orders from Mr. Taylor. Witnesses have also alleged that all diamonds mined by the RUF were given to Mr. Taylor for safe-keeping. Mr. Taylor has been charged by the Prosecution with aiding and abetting the RUF’s crimes through the exchange of weapons and other support for diamonds, and also with being in a position of control over the RUF so as to be able to prevent or punish crimes committed by RUF forces.
According to the protected witness, whose testimony Mr. Taylor sought to discredit today, Mr. Sankoh was expecting to receive more money from Mr. Taylor because the former Liberian president was in possession of diamonds on behalf of the RUF. The witness said that Mr. Sankoh did not see it as a gesture for Mr. Taylor to give him the $20,000. Mr. Taylor dismissed the witness’ account.
“This is total foolishness because I did not receive any money or diamonds from Bockarie. If I had sent him that money and he had said that it was peanuts, then it would have been ungrateful of him. Bockarie did not say so in his report to Sankoh,” Mr. Taylor said.
“Sankoh never asked me a question about diamonds kept for the RUF,” he added.
The prosecution witness also said that while members of the RUF delegation to the peace talks in Togo were on transit in Liberia, Mr. Taylor gave each of them an amount of $300. Mr. Taylor admitted today that while he did give members of the RUF delegation some money, he cannot remember what the exact amount was.
“I did give them some money but I cannot remember the amount. I agree,” he said.
Mr. Taylor’s also today challenged the authenticity of a hand-written report from the Black Revolutionary Guard Unit of the RUF which was presented to Mr. Sankoh after his release in 1999. The report, which was presented last year as a prosecution exhibit, stated that the RUF received support in the form of weapons and military advice from Mr. Taylor while Mr. Sankoh was in custody.
“Why will this individual present a hand-written report when the commander is already there, that the commander cannot sign? This is the part of their handiwork here. This is fabrication, this is what is going on,” Mr. Taylor responded.
A 16-page minute of an oral report submitted to Mr. Sankoh after his release in 1999 also indicated that Mr. Taylor received about 1832 pieces of diamonds from the RUF for safekeeping while Mr. Sankoh was in custody. The report, however, does not make any reference to Mr. Taylor giving war-like materials to the RUF. All reference to receipt of war-like materials in the report were about help received from the RUF’s “main helper in Burkina Faso.”
Mr. Taylor denied receiving any such diamonds from the RUF.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues on Tuesday. There will be no court hearings on Monday as the court will observe an official holiday in The Hague.