International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Lawyers Get Their Final Say at the Charles Taylor Trial

In tailored suits and with gold cufflinks matching his gold-rimmed glasses, Charles Taylor has spent much of the past three years sitting largely impassively in a courtroom in The Hague, occasionally writing notes to his lawyers, and listening as witnesses described tales of horror to a panel of judges. Prosecutors say the former Liberian president is responsible for the mayhem and crimes committed by rebels in his neighboring country, Sierra Leone.

The exception was the almost seven months when Taylor took the stand in his own defense, when he was animated, usually chatty and personable, at times flashing anger, as he told his side of the story. He and many of the witnesses who spoke in his defense tried to refute the accusations and tell an entirely different story—one of an innocent peacemaker turned scapegoat at the whim of western powers. (The Open Society Justice Initiative has been tracking developments in the case on its monitoring site, CharlesTaylorTrial.org.)

On February 8, prosecutors will have one final chance to convince the judges of Taylor’s guilt. On February 9, Taylor’s own defense lawyers will aim to persuade the bench that their client was not responsible for the horrific violence—murders, rapes, hacked off limbs, and looting—committed by rebels during Sierra Leone’s bloody 11-year civil war.

The closing arguments mark the end of three years of testimony before the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the UN-backed court which normally operates out of the West African country’s capital, Freetown. The Taylor trial was moved to The Hague on instruction by the UN Security Council because of security concerns.

After an initial false start in July 2007 when Taylor failed to appear for the opening of the case and fired his lawyers, the case began in earnest—with a new set of lawyers—in January 2008.

The case against Taylor alleges that he was involved in a criminal plan with Sierra Leonean rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, which aimed to seize control of the country’s resources and territory. Prosecutors say Sankoh and Taylor first formed this plan back in the 1980s, when they were both at a revolutionary training camp in Libya, hosted by Libyan President Muammar Ghaddafi. Taylor and Sankoh then allegedly set out on a campaign of terror that ended, finally, in 2002. The violence was fueled in large part by Sierra Leone’s diamond wealth. Sankoh’s group, the Revolutionary United Front, (RUF) would allegedly bring Taylor diamonds from Sierra Leone and, in exchange, Taylor would supply the rebels with the arms and ammunition used to perpetrate crimes.

Taylor had such influence over the rebels, prosecutors say, that he was effectively the RUF commander. As such, they say he should be held responsible for its crimes, because he should have known about them, was in a position to prevent them, or punish people for them, and yet failed to do so. For his role in planning, ordering, instigating, aiding and abetting the commission of crimes, prosecutors say, Taylor bears the greatest responsibility for the conflict.

In closing argument, prosecutors will likely make these points:

  1. Taylor created and controlled the RUF, first by assisting with their training in Liberia and then by providing manpower to fuel the invasion of Sierra Leone in 1991.
  2. Taylor contributed to the crimes in Sierra Leone by stocking the rebels’ arsenal with arms and ammunition.
  3. Taylor played a role in looting diamonds from Sierra Leone by providing the RUF with materials and specific instructions to control the diamond mines in the country.
  4. With his influence and leadership over the RUF, Taylor had knowledge of RUF crimes in Sierra Leone but failed to prevent and punish the crimes committed.
  5. Taylor used his influence and leadership to send RUF surrogates to attack neighboring Guinea and as well as opposing rebel forces in Liberia in an effort to consolidate control and influence in the region.
  6. Taylor hid himself under the cloak of a peacemaker and tried to conceal his role in the crimes by eliminating people who knew about his relationship with the Sierra Leonean rebels. Those executed on Taylor’s orders included high level RUF commanders.
  7. The Sierra Leonean rebel group was basically an extension of Taylor’s own rebel group in Liberia. Fighters from both groups crossed into each other’s territory and provided needed support. The two groups had one leader—Charles Taylor.

The defense has steadfastly rejected the allegations against Taylor. Wanting to bring stability to the region, they argue, Taylor acted at the behest of West African states and the United Nations to broker peace between the warring factions in neighboring Sierra Leone. He also negotiated with rebels to free abducted United Nations peacekeepers and ushered one of the most prominent rebel leaders out of Sierra Leone to help calm the conflict.

The defense argues that Taylor’s trial is “political” because others—such as then Sierra Leonean president, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah—bore the greatest responsibility for the crimes. But Taylor’s role in the conflict, they claim, has been skewed to suggest he was the one most responsible for the atrocities. The defense also maintains that Taylor’s indictment suited western powers, such as the United States and United Kingdom, who wanted “regime change” in Liberia.

Throughout the trial, Taylor was defended by a charismatic Jamaican-born British barrister, Courtenay Griffiths, who speckled his opening statement with Bob Marley lyrics. (Griffiths accused the case’s first prosecutor of “working iniquity to achieve vanity.”)

Taylor‘s defense will likely make the following key points:

  1. Taylor was a peacemaker whose dealings with the Sierra Leonean rebel group, RUF had the blessings of other West African leaders, who gave him a mandate to help bring the conflict in Sierra Leone to an end by peaceful means.
  2. RUF commanders probably had dealings with members of Taylor’s security apparatus, but these relationships were not with Taylor’s knowledge and support.
  3. The West African region had become so rife with conflict, resulting in different factions controlling territory along Sierra Leone’s and Liberia’s borders, and allegations that Taylor could easily send arms and ammunition from Liberia to Sierra Leone are fanciful.
  4. RUF commanders in fact had wide ranging sources of support and were not solely reliant on arms and ammunition from Liberia. The RUF bought materials from others including Taylor’s own NPFL rivals the United Liberation Movement for Democracy (ULIMO), Guinean soldiers, the Burkinabe army, and even Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) peacekeepers..
  5. The prosecution case has not been proven without reasonable doubt. It is riddled with inconsistencies and internal contradictions which put the credibility of its witnesses in doubt. Furthermore, many linkage witnesses testified against Taylor because they were induced by money or other benefits from the Prosecution. Some were also relocated to Western countries because of their testimonies
  6. Taylor is on trial because of a conspiracy by Western countries like the United States of America and Britain who want to keep him out of Liberia.

During the three-year proceedings, a total of 115 witnesses testified, the last in November 2010. Of those, 94 spoke for the prosecution and 21 witnesses testified for the defense.

Among the most high profile were supermodel Naomi Campbell and actress Mia Farrow, who were brought in by the prosecution in an attempt to show that Taylor was knowingly trading weapons in exchange for diamonds. Allegations that Taylor sent rough cut diamonds to Campbell after a star-studded dinner in 1997, hosted by former South African president, Nelson Mandela, were used by prosecutors to try to link Taylor to the diamonds themselves and then to a weapons shipment that landed in Sierra Leone a month later. (Taylor said he never possessed diamonds during his presidency beyond his personal jewelry and that he had nothing to do with the shipment.)

After next week’s closing arguments, the Court will issue its judgment, expected before the end of 2011. The judgment will determine whether enough evidence was presented to find Taylor guilty on each of the 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. (Taylor is presumed innocent until proven otherwise, and it is the burden of the prosecutor to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt before judges can make a decision to convict.)

If Taylor is convicted of any or all of the charges, the Special Court for Sierra Leone will then hold a hearing to determine Taylor’s sentence. Under the terms of the Court’s statute, any prison sentence must be for a specific number of years. The United Kingdom has offered to imprison Taylor if he is found guilty. If Taylor is found not guilty, he will be acquitted and released as a free man.

No matter what the trial judgment, an appeal of the case by one or both sides is likely. The court’s Appeals Chamber then will decide on those points of appeal. An appeals judgment, if a challenge is filed, is likely to be handed down sometime in 2012.

39 Comments
  1. Alpha,

    Your report is fair, but with specificity it would have been preferable if you had directly commented on Naomi Campbell’s testimony because of her status and prosecution intent for dragging her in to testify.

    Hypothetically, if your presumed closing arguments are true, in essence, the defense closing argument will mostly be based on documentations while the prosecution closing argument will mostly be based on witnesses’ testimonies. Will witnesses’ testimonies supersede documentations, or the other way around? That’s the sixty-four thousands dollars question.

  2. Wow, “the die is cast” and no return to normal old days where the roosters crow in the morning to summom the rag-tagg dirty smelling rebels to go out door to doo, street to street, to terrorize the citizenry of Sierra Leone. Whatever happens after the verdict has taught us that no man is above the law, and that the Almighty will always come to be the judge in the final end to every situation. If africans do not learn from this lesson,(taylor vs People of Sierra Leone), then we are what the the perception of Westerners is, and should have ourselves to blame. However, I personally believe that whether we are nokos or akis,we remain to be Africans and our destiny is in our hands. you are right that Westerners should not have to come to settle our differences, but as it seems from how we belttle each others, and how we become personal, instead of using rationality in making our points, the West will ever determine our destiny! For example; taylor will not be let in my backyard whether a free man or not! I am sure Jose Rodriguez also believes taylor is welcome whether he murdered, as alleged, or not. Now who would we have as mediator? Ofcourse, it would have to be the Western man whom you so much hate, but depend on for every thing whether you agree or not! A hint to a wise is sufficient!

    • Fallah,

      How foolish for an african to depending on the westerner…historically its been like a tiny piece of cheese on a string……..

      Fallah,

      Africa gives the west Free access to mineral resources and man power to build their economy….they are even still trying to own our resources….Japan,South Korea and Germany,3 high producers bought african minerals from mines owned by westerns in africa……China prefer to buy african mineral resources from african and the game changes….!!

      African maybe less conning or fail to realise the value of what he has in the past…but nothing stays the same forever,the world turns,and turning very fast these day for westerners, colonial babies and eurocentric africans.

  3. Dear Readers,

    I’ve just copied below a BBC’s report on gold smuggling in the DR Congo. I don’t think Charles Taylor is involved in this. Instead, some big hands are deeply involved. There is no sign of international criminal investigation into the support of ongoing wars into that country. Everyday it is Taylor while others scout free in these criminal enterprises.

    BBC report:

    February 2011 Last updated at 11:07 ET
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    DR Congo ‘gold smugglers’ arrested in Goma
    Dealer weighing gold (file photo) The gold trade fuels conflict in eastern DR Congo

    Eight foreigners – from the US, France and Nigeria – have been arrested on allegations of gold smuggling in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, officials say.

    “Millions of dollars” and 436kg of gold were seized, the local governor said.

    DR Congo is rich in minerals, such as gold, tin and coltan used to make mobile phones, but many mines are controlled by armed groups.

    Last year, the government banned mining in eastern regions.

    Eastern DR Congo has been ravaged by conflict for at least 15 years, with both the army and rebel groups accused of using the fighting as cover to exploit the area’s mineral wealth.

    North Kivu governor Julien Paluku said four of those arrested – two Nigerians, one US citizen and one from France – had flown to the regional capital, Goma, from Nigeria in order to buy gold.
    Map of DR Congo, showing North Kivu

    The crew of three US citizens and one Nigerian were also in detention, he said.

    Their US-registered plane has been impounded.

    A UN source told the BBC’s Thomas Hubert in the capital, Kinshasa, that its flight plan was for a return trip from the Nigerian capital, Abuja, and added that the same aircraft had performed the same flight in the past two weeks.

    “This could be one of the networks which fuelled the war in the east,” Mr Paluku told the AFP news agency.

    “If a rebel leader is given money in exchange for gold, he will never leave the bush,” he said.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12385910

    • Hori,
      Man, let geography play in your argument here….DRC is no where geographically bordering Liberia for anyone to make up such wild allegations. Let the debate stay in the realm of reality. Even CT was out no one could accuse him of this one…no way

  4. Alpha Sesay , I am sorry to say that you have again demonstrated your dispassion for justice and presented an intellectual fraud on this site again. Why would you write about prosecution attempt to use Super Model Naomi Campbell without telling readers that the Super Model denied that she was ever given any diamond by Taylor?

    Why are you slanting justice in favor of the prosecution? OH Alpha Sesay, we expect you to be objective for heaven sake. You are polluting the minds of some readers who might not have followed this trial.

    • Momo

      What do you mean, when you say, “why are you slanting justice in favor of the prosecution”? Gosh people, this is not rocket science. Alpha’s writing has no bearing on the judicial outcome of this trail. So what he writes (in my opinion, I think he has been objective) does not slant anything, nothing, zippo, zilch in favor of the prosecution. You all comment on Alpha posting as though he is writing for the “chambers”, NO! He is writing as a lawyer who has practicesand understands law.

      Again, Alpha, good job! You will never please everyone…and if you do, guess what? someone is still not happy, which will be you! You’ve done a great job!

  5. Finally!!!!!

  6. Good commentary i think,Well done sir!!!

  7. I think Alpha’s latest post make sense this time around. Has he seen the light lately? Well, let’s see what comes next.

  8. Courtney Griffiths storms out of court!!!

  9. As always Alpha,

    Nice job!

    • Thanks for this website Bnker! Case close! Now that Griffiths walks out of court, angered, by Court’s refusal to accept documents he should have submitted 20 days ago! Wow. Maybe he is headed back to Jamaica to pracrice Third world Lawyering for Papa Doc, who is welcome back to Haiti to run for President, silly! Griffith should have gotten kicked out of this court ever since, because he appears very arrogant just like his client..I am very upset for this guy being rude toward an Africa Run Court. Griffiths woulsd have never done this in a United Kingdom Court. Period!

      • Fallah,
        We have to be fair, the defense is doing the job that they vowed to do. Griffiths credibility and ability as a defense lawyer is “unquestionable and unimpeachable”. He has done a masterful job at defending his clients here and in England. So, making mockery of him is unnecessary. Did he miscalculate the judges by being late by 20 days? Absolutely. I think this may alter the decision…but then again, it’s me…I am not a lawyer

        I can tell you, you have not seen the last of this lawyer at the UN

      • J Fallah Menjor,

        ” African run Court ” yeah right!

        • You took the word right out of my mouth : “African run court” . Is Justice Sebutinde the only honourable person in this court? . Headline: “Grifiths storms out of court”. Wow! Such respectful “storming” out. Lastly, this is really the Mask of Anarchy -pardon me Mr expert witness – I mean Rascism unmasked .

      • Fallah,

        it sounds like a frustration talk to me. When you say, Mr. “Griffiths should have gotten kicked out of this court ever since”, who should have kicked him out of this court. These are the kinds of violent and uncivilized behavior and tendency you guys continue to demonstrate and the white people didn’t understand and decide to side with you guys. I tell you what, it is still not late. You go and kick him out, or ask your greedy white gods to kick him out. However, you say you are upset, that’s your problem, we can care less, and we don’t want to know. What’s up with this website bnker posted? It didn’t say anything new. It only talked about the disaster testimony of the prosecution star witness, Naomi Campbell, centered around blood diamond and the interview Griffiths had outside the courtroom after he walked out. Find something meaningful to celebrate about and not this fake prosecution case, and certainly not Naomi Campbell who destroyed the prosecution diamond linkage.

      • jfallahmenjor,
        The Haitian government on Monday said it has issued a new passport to former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, enabling him to end his exile in South Africa and return to Haiti.

        Some black folks are waking up and smelling the rose.

  10. The prosecution just closed its case. The Defence has its work cut out
    As always Wadi’The Zima’

  11. All,

    Attached is a very insightful article posted on Shelby Grossman’s blog. It discusses the possible legal rationale and ramifications of the Trial Chamber not accepting the defense’s final trial brief.

    Just so i’m up to speed, can anyone tell me why the defense didn’t submit their final brief? And what do you think of that decision and 3) What should be their strategy going forward.

    http://iclferment.blogspot.com/2011/02/special-court-for-sierra-leone-trial.html

    • Interesting read!

      Now, let me play devil’s advocate….isn’t me a member of the defense team or adviser to that team? I think the points are legitimate and well laid out, but would I expect or anyone expect a different cry of foul play?

      Contradictions and foul plays were things I genuinely expected….I said the trial was political by nature!

    • 2-8-2011
      @ Mas
      Thanks for sharing. It is refreshing to read a report from an objective source. Might I suggest that we focus more on this and other blogs for a more rounded and academically stimulating discussion?
      p/b

  12. The way to go Mr Griffiths!!!!

    This trial will reduce American and western influence in africa’ i hope ….I think african leaders should withdraw from the ICC.I really wonder whether any African leaders in their right mind will subscribe to the ICC after this trial.

    Why should an african leader be worried about a potential trial in europe when they leave office or an African highbrid court created and sponsored by the west? …..Should african leaders have an air of fear of been tried and imprisoned in europe if they fail to govern well?as an african youth and civilian, i do not wish to think it is wise to empower the west in this way,as it could be counter productive, knowing the history we have with the west and it imperious nature “withstanding those old humiliated african folks that think colonialism was good for africa,AS THEY CLAIM IT IS THE MOST PROSPEROUS THEY’VE HAD IT’…A Pschologist will say thats the thinking of a very suppressed individual with very low self esteem ……history will write”THEY CORRUPT THEM AND THEN THEY TRIED THEM IN THEIR COURTS !…. alas”SADDAM!!!!!!.

    May god lift the curse of stupidity and lack of foresight upon us!!!

    THESE GHASTLIES AND THEIR MASTERS ARE TRYING TO COLONISE AFRICA AGAIN, AND WE ARE ALL JUST SITTING AND WATCHING…….WAKE UP AFRICANS LEADERS.
    p-s we should create our own courts in africa for these purpose!!!

  13. Folks,

    One of the main microcosms of what is plaguing this inherently flawed court and the fake prosecution, is the issue of “blood diamonds” in exchange of arms and ammunitions. What Alpha and his Open Society Foundations folks wrote about Naomi Campbell involvement in allegedly receiving “blood diamonds” is a tease, is incomplete, and is like a drop of sugar cube put into the ocean. They fall way to short in explaining to the world what did the Super Model say concerning President Taylor allegedly giving her diamonds. She said she did not receive any diamonds from this innocent man as alleged by this fake and incompetent prosecution. I have sufficient reasons to believe that the omission of such a profound and truthful evidence presented by Naomi Campbell was an advancement of intentional propaganda by Alpha and his colleagues. However, Naomi Campbell named was once again invoked and not her truthful testimony by Alpha to generate that self negating and inextricably sentiment that most people in Sierra Leone and elsewhere who are not following this fake trial have against this innocent man. Notwithstanding, the prosecution who has sown the seeds of their own demise was hit with curtail circuit rimming down their throats of “Adam’s Apple by Naomi Campbell’s testimony. They didn’t even want to take pride in their own witness they brought and later disowned her. Now Naomi Campbell’s name and truthful evidence is a taboo and forbidden words for Alpha and this fake case. Alpha, I know what we have here in this fake case is a whistle stop casino; where the game is rigged, the dice are loaded, the roulette wheel is being controlled, the cards are marked, and the slot machine is programmed. I know you are not counting on us as being suckers with your tease of Naomi Campbell’s name being invoked and not her testimony. Because you know we are not suckers. Jose Rodriguez will not be disquieted especially when I can see straight through you. Concerning what you think both sides will say in their closing argument, at least you have modified your paragraphs. Just as a reminder, you said they might “LIKELY” say XYZ as oppose to your last week reporting that says, the defense “WILL” say XYZ.

    Bnker, I hope you are following. Last week, when I said Alpha was speaking as though he was a soothsayer, or a false prophet in saying that the defense “WILL” say XYZ, you said I was saying blah, blah, and blah. In his report this week, he modified it by saying the defense will “LIKELY” say XYZ.

    Bnker, trust me. Some of us that see this trial differently, are not uneducated. Some of us are equally qualified, and perhaps even more qualified than the other side. But you guys just think because we see it differently, we are uneducated. It is not true bnker. I personally can challenge anyone on this trial including Mr. Stephen who I personally embarrassed on this site and the founder of this inherently court, Mr. David Crane who ran away from us on this site.

    Anyways pekin, one fine day we will meet in person.

    • Jose,
      I have not dismissed or questioned anyone level of education. I don’t think formal education completes an individual. There are some who are formally educated and are socially inept. I however, sometimes question the reason for some of the arguments and comments though. But, I need not question anyone’s level of formal or social education. Honestly, at times you present well laid out discussion and other times, it comes from the “left field”. I am sure you say or think the same about my discourse at times or maybe many times too….like I can I balance saying that the trial is political CT may walk free, and then in the next line, I say, “I want him in the slammer”, but then you often fail to read further or elect to ignore the after, “for crimes committed in Liberia”. I think most people whether they are for Taylor or against fail to see reasoning in the other side of the debate. I believe the failure to break the personal biases prevents us from forming a more formidable discussion.

      Now, your competency and ability to be a better lawyer than the prosecutor, I have no comments about that…you be your own judge.

      • 2-8-2011
        @bnker
        How nice it would be if people could put their biases aside. However, in the real world it almost never happens. Almost everything we do and don’t do revolves around our personal biases, good, bad or ugly.
        I too wish our discussions could be more academic and respectful. Sometimes I find myself being pulled in by the negative energy and the slanted reporting. The following blog Mas posted seems to be an avenue for a more productive discussion:

        http://iclferment.blogspot.com/2011/02/special-court-for-sierra-leone-trial.html

  14. In addition to what Mas said above. The Shelby Grossman blog site has very interesting running commentary of the events of February 8th.

    http://www.shelbygrossman.com

  15. Is it me or was it strange that only the alternate Judge Al-Hajj had any questions today. I think Judge Sebutinde may have also had one question. For a case of this magnitude where the burden of proof rest with the prosecution, that struck me as strange that there wasn’t more questions.

    From what i saw today, I sense that there is a racial and cultural divide amongst the judges up there and that is most sad for international justice with Judge Sebutinde always taking one side and the other 2 fair skinned judges taking another.

    Hopefully all the judges will have questions by tomorrow.

    • Mas. Hello. I have not responded to your posts before but I must say, you are extremely(sic) right. Only you failed to mention that Mr Bangura cut a sad figure amongst a pack of wolves in sheep clothing. But I am glad you notice that this is absolute vengeful “justice” .

    • Mas,

      Very good observation. I agree. it’s a cultural and racial thing going on. That’s why in the United States its stated that juries must be selected by one peers.

      • In addition Big B and Ken, the same scenario unfolded again yesterday. Only Judge Sebutinde had the questions. Very pointed questions i might add. One of the questions she asked to Hollis was how would she (Hollis) characterize the conflict in SL, internal or international?

        To which Hollis answered that “it was an internal conflict but Taylor was an international actor acting outside of the mandate of the Government of Liberia. She then went on to say that even if the judges don’t by that argument, they could still convict Taylor based on his dealings with the RUF before he became President of Liberia.”

        Of course that line of argument by Hollis makes no sense because convicting Taylor based on his dealings with the RUF before he became President of Liberia is outside the indictment period.

        In closing, I maintain my initial argument that for a case of this magnitude it is very strange that only Judge Sebutinde and the alternate senegalese judge had any questions for the Prosecution.

    • Mas
      You have a point, yes, I believe there are racial elements to these proceedings and overall indictments….Let’s take a look at some of those indicted so far, you have the former president of Liberia, the current president of Sudan, two DRC rebel leaders. Now threats have been made against the rogue president of Ivory Coast. Yet, the UN report of the Israeli-Palestine crisis some years ago recommended war crimes charges and prosecution against some Israelis and Palenstinians. To date, there have been no indictment or talk of such.

      Look, I am not in favor of the world dictating to us (Africans), but until we setup our own special courts and hold our leaders accountable, courts like the ICC should continue to exist.

      But, I agree with you that there are elements of biases and many times economics….

  16. Mas,
    there is no racial and cultural divide amongst the judges. All three will find Mr. Taylor not guilty on all accounts for lack of evidence to support the charges.

    • Ken,

      wishful thinking! It’s all Good. But if it walks like a duck, and clucks like a duck, what is it?

  17. how come they are so eager to prosecute this african man when there is no white man from the us, canada, or the uk currently on trial are a representative of the horrors committed against the indigenous populations? if they can put charles taylor on trial for the actions of others committed in another country, then they need to stop being hypocrites and put reps from the colonial nations on trial for the crimes of their countries.

  18. please see reasons of setting Mr. Taylor free, he has done nothing to sierra leon. why only African leaders and not the western leaders of which one is the U S A former President George W. Bush?

    from D. Amex Taylor of Sinoe county, Liberia.

    • please see reasons of setting Mr. Taylor free, he has done nothing to sierra leon. why only African leaders and not the western leaders of which one is the U S A former President George W. Bush?

      from D. Amex Taylor of Sinoe county, Liberia.
      contact: 00231-0880 57 21 98