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Friday, December 10, 2010

Blood Diamonds link televangelist Pat Robertson to Liberian war criminal

Connections between American Televangelist Pat Robertson and Former President of Liberia, Charles G. Taylor

According 1999 articles in The Washington Post and The Virginian-Pilot, Pat Robertson had extensive business connections with former Liberian president Charles Taylor. Robertson is best known for his role as a televangelist and of his support of conservative Christianity. According to a June 2, 1999, article published in The Virginian-Pilot, Robertson’s company, Freedom Gold, Ltd, was given exclusive rights to mine diamonds in Liberia in May of 1999. Robertson allegedly used Operation Blessing planes, meant for sending relief supplies to Rwandan genocide victims, to haul diamond-mining equipment to Liberia.         

Under the deal, Freedom Gold, Ltd. was given exploration rights for five years and mining rights for an additional 20 years. The Liberian government is entitled to collecting royalties and other fees, as well as a possible 10% cut of profits in future dealings.

On February 4, 2010, Charles Taylor testified before the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague, that Robertson was his primary political ally in the US. Taylor stated during his war crimes trial that Robertson had agreed to promote Liberia to the US administration in exchange for additional benefits for Freedom Gold, Ltd.

Former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor Tried for War Crimes
Under an amended indictment, Charles G. Taylor has been charged with 11 countsof war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sierra Leone. Taylor made his first appearance before the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague on April 3, 2006, and entered a plea of not guilty. His trial began on June 4, 2007, but was postponed until January 7, 2008.

In January 2009, the prosecution finished its presentation against Taylor and closed its case on February 27, 2009. Taylor’s defense began in July 2009, during which he testified in his own defense. As of 2010, prosecutors are still cross-examining Charles Taylor.

Taylor’ trial can be followed by the public on the website, The Trial of Charles Taylor. The website contains daily, weekly and monthly updates on the trial as well as background information on Taylor. Recently, the trial has been focused on the prosecution’s cross-examination of Taylor.

In May 2010, Taylor denied accusations that he contributed to the enslavement of child soldiers and brutal murders of villagers in areas neighboring Liberia. Unusual for an international war crimes trial, Taylor gave a long, direct testimony, which the prosecution has used to challenge Taylor’s earlier testimony under oath. In one case, he repeatedly denied that he had funneled government funds into private accounts while under oath. Prosecutors responded by presenting him with records of a bank account with more than $ 14 million, which Taylor justified as a “covert account...[to be] used covertly.”

On May 21, 2010, the special court issued a statement, emphasizing the need for supermodel Naomi Campbell to provide potentially incriminating evidence about a supposed "blood diamond" gift she received from Charles Taylor. Prosecutors at the Special Court for Sierra Leone were told about the gift by actress Mia Farrow, who attended a reception with Campbell and Taylor at the home of Nelson Mandela in 1997.

According to the prosecutors, Farrow said that Campbell had told her about being woken up in the middle of the night by "two or three men" and being given a "large" rough diamond on behalf the former president. Although Campbell has expressed wishes to not participate in Taylor’s trial, the judges must now decide whether to issue a subpoena to induce her participation as a witness.

The United States has been connected with Charles Taylor’s trial, through the testimony of a key witness and the trial of Taylor’s son, Charles Taylor, Jr.

Taylor, Jr. was found guilty of committing acts of torture during the civil war in Liberia. On October 30, 2008, he was convicted of several counts, including torture, conspiracy to commit torture, and possession of a firearm while committing a violent crime. Taylor, Jr. was prosecuted by the US under the US Department of Justice’s Domestic Security Section. The presiding judge, Cecilia Altonaga, sentenced Taylor to 97 years in prison .on January 8, 2009, although he has plans to appeal his conviction. On the same day, the World Organization for Human Rights USA filed a civil suit in the Southern District of Florida on behalf of five of Taylor Jr.’s victims. The plaintiffs won by default judgment on all counts.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up to hear all complaints and charges against Liberia’s’ former leader. Marie Vah, a nurse at a Minneapolis Hospital, testified that she had witnessed Charles Taylor starve Nigerian journalists Tayo Awotunsin and Krees Imobibie in 1990. Vah and a friend had been gone from the U.S. to Liberia to find relatives, only to be detained at the border on Taylor’s orders.

Taylor on Trial for War Crimes (by Marlies Simons, New York Times)

Conflict Diamonds Funding Wars in Liberia and Angola
In 2001, the UN reported that diamonds and other natural resources were being used to finance armed conflict in Liberia. The Liberian government at the time was in violation of trade and weapons bans and various sanctions were being discussed. Diamonds used to fund armed insurrections became known as “conflict diamonds,” many of which were smuggled into European countries and even the US. New rulings require all diamonds coming into UN countries be in accordance with the Kimberly Process, which certifies and governs the trading of these diamonds. Liberia has had two arms embargoes – in 1992 and 2001 – but a steady flow of arms continued to flow into the country. In 2004, controversy grew over alleged links between al-Qaeda and the smuggling of Sierra Leonean diamonds through Liberia. The FBI said it would investigate.
‘Conflict diamonds’ evade UN sanctions (Michael Fleshman, UN.org)

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