Former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, today described how he evaded a United Nations arms embargo by funneling millions of dollars through a secret personal bank account to buy arms and ammunition in an effort to defeat rebels threatening to oust his government.
“The largest disbursement from this account went to arms and ammunition,” Mr. Taylor said, asserting that the purchase was necessary to fight against Liberians United for Reconciliation and Development (LURD) rebels, since his country was under a United Nations arms embargo.
The bank account, opened in his name at the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) in 1999 and into which millions of US dollars were deposited during his time as president, was a major focus for prosecutors’ cross-examination of Mr. Taylor. Prosecutors have alleged that the money in this account was not used for official purposes but instead provided a way for Mr. Taylor to divert money away from state coffers in order to enrich himself. Mr. Taylor had dismissed the claim during his cross-examination, and today his defense team helped give him the opportunity to explain the existence of this account during his re-examination.
Mr. Taylor said that the Liberian legislature authorized him to open the secret account in his name, and that it was used both for arms supplies and for other purposes benefitting the Liberian government.
“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.
“The largest disbursement from this account went to arms and ammunition. Out of this account, we paid salaries for special units, the ATU [Anti-Terrorist Unit] was paid, the SSS [Special Security Services] was paid, and various presidential projects in dealing with goodwill within that period were paid out of this account. These are the four categories that we paid out of this account,” the former president explained.
Mr. Taylor also today told the judges that his former defense minister Daniel Chea was wrong when he told media outfit, Frontline World, during a May 2005 interview that the disarmament process in Liberia in 1995 was a fiasco.
“I fully disagree with Mr. Chea to say that that was a fiasco, I totally disagree. The United Nations, ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States], the African Union, all of the observers said that the disarmament, while it was not total, in fact no disarmament can be total, the statement used during that period, there was substantial disarmament sufficient to carry out the elections, and so for him to say that it was a fiasco is total nonsense.
Mr. Chea in the May 2005 interview said that Mr. Taylor disappointed the people of Liberia because he opened too many fronts that he could not contain. Mr. Taylor dismissed the assertion as “untrue.”
Mr. Taylor concluded his cross-examination by prosecutors on February 6, 2008. Mr. Taylor is now responding to questions from his lawyers in re-direct examination. The former Liberian president is on trial for his alleged support to Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels who waged an 11-years rebel war on the people of Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied all allegations against him, saying that his association with the RUF rebels was purely for peaceful purposes in the West African country.
Mr. Taylor’s re-examination continues tomorrow.