Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Former Liberian president facing war crimes believed to have substantial assets, U.N. panel says

UNITED NATIONS: Former Liberian President Charles Taylor is believed to have substantial financial assets despite his demand that the court prosecuting him for war crimes cover his legal costs because he is indigent, U.N. investigators said in a report obtained Thursday.

"There have been credible allegations" that Taylor has investments in Nigeria that have not been frozen, according to a report to the U.N. Security Council by a five-member expert panel investigating the impact of sanctions on Liberia and progress toward lifting some of them.

U.N. sanctions ordered all assets of Taylor and his associates to be frozen, although the current Liberian government has not yet enacted legislation authorizing a freeze, the panel said.

The panel noted that Taylor also had "a large sum of money" when he was arrested in Nigeria.

Taylor was elected Liberia's president in 1997, but quit and went into exile in Nigeria after being indicted in 2003 on 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He is accused of arming and controlling rebels who raped, mutilated and enslaved civilians during the 10-year civil war in Liberia's neighbor Sierra Leone, which ended in 2002.

Taylor was arrested trying to flee Nigeria in 2006 and was transferred to The Hague, Netherlands, a year ago amid fears his trial in Sierra Leone could trigger fresh violence in the region. He also is linked to brutality in his own country, but Liberians have opted for a truth and reconciliation commission rather than a court.

Taylor plunged the start of his landmark war crimes trial into chaos on June 4 by boycotting the hearing and firing his lawyer, saying he did not believe he would get a fair trial.

"Although Charles Taylor claims to be indigent and has requested that Special Court for Sierra Leone cover his legal costs, there have been credible allegations of investments in Nigeria that remain unfrozen, as well as a large sum of money with Charles Taylor at the time of his arrest in Nigeria," the panel said.

"The government of Nigeria did not permit the panel to investigate these allegations," the report said.

The panel also said that at least 16 percent of taxes paid by the Oriental Timber Corporation paid — totaling US$4.5 million (€3.4 million) — "were deposited directly into the bank accounts of Charles Taylor."

"Millions more may have been deposited into other foreign accounts, but definitive information on the ownership (of) these bank accounts has been difficult to obtain," the panel said.

Former Liberian president facing war crimes believed to have substantial assets, U.N. panel says - International Herald Tribune