Monday, July 09, 2007

Court grants Charles Taylor more money for defense in Sierra Leone war crimes trial

THE HAGUE, Netherlands: The court trying former Liberian president Charles Taylor for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone has again raised the amount of money he receives to pay for defense attorneys, a court official said Friday.

Taylor, charged with backing rebels who murdered, raped and mutilated thousands of Sierra Leoneans during the country's 10-year civil war, will receive a package worth some $100,000 (€73,500) per month, said Special Court for Sierra Leone acting registrar Herman von Hebel.

The package includes $70,000 (€51,500) per month for a legal team. He also gets a senior investigator and office space in The Hague, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

"It is almost three times as high as the other cases at the special court and (up to) two times higher than at the Yugoslavia tribunal," Von Hebel told reporters in The Hague.

Taylor's trial is being staged in the Netherlands because of fears it could trigger renewed violence in Sierra Leone if it were held there.

Taylor plunged the start of his landmark trial into turmoil last month when he fired his lawyer and boycotted the opening day, complaining he did not have enough money to fund his defense.

At the time, court officials said they would raise his monthly lump sum payment to $45,000 (€33,000) to allow Taylor to hire a more senior attorney.

Taylor is entitled to receive the money because the court has ruled he is indigent, meaning he cannot pay for his own defense, despite prosecutors and United Nations experts suggesting he has millions of dollars stashed in bank accounts around the world.

"We believe there are tens of millions," said prosecutor Stephen Rapp.

Taylor is believed to have enriched himself by taking a cut of lucrative contracts for timber and other resources in Liberia. Prosecutors also accuse him of funding the Sierra Leone rebels in part to get his hands on the country's diamonds.

Investigators are working to track down Taylor's alleged loot. If it is found and can be linked directly to him, the court has the power to make him pay back money he has been given to fund his defense.

Taylor's new defense team is expected to be in place in time for his trial's scheduled resumption on Aug. 20.

Court grants Charles Taylor more money for defense in Sierra Leone war crimes trial - International Herald Tribune