Taylor Admits Gold Trade Tie With Top US Pastor
Ex-President Charles Taylor, testifying in his war crimes trial in The Hague on Thursday, said that his government had awarded US televangelist Pat Robertson a gold mining concession in 1999 and that Robertson later offered to lobby the Bush administration on the government's behalf.
The revelations came in the midst of Taylor's U.N.-backed trial on 11 counts of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during Sierra Leone's 1990s civil war.
Mr. Taylor is accused of directing a Sierra Leonean rebel group, the United Revolutionary Front, in a campaign aimed at securing access to the country's diamond mines.
The rebel movement stands accused of committing mass atrocities in the West African country in the late 1990s, including the mutilation of thousands of civilians.
Prosecutors at the Special Court for Sierra Leone contend that Taylor offered concessions to Westerners in exchange for lobbying work aimed at enhancing his image in the United States.
They maintain that he also spent an additional $2.6 million paying lobbying and public relations firms to influence in his favor the policies of former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Under cross-examination, Taylor said that Robertson had volunteered to argue Liberia's case before U.S. officials and that he had spoken directly to Bush about Taylor. He also confirmed that Robertson's company, Freedom Gold, signed an agreement to exploit gold in southeastern Liberia, but that it never generated any profit.
Lead Prosecutor Brenda Hollis questioned Taylor about how he may have skirted the Liberian legislature in order to get Robertson his gold mining contracts.
“Mr. Taylor, even the legislature in place in 1999 actually refused to ratify this agreement you had with Pat Robertson. Isn't that correct?" asked Hollis.
Taylor answered: "There was contention about different issues, yes." And so you just went around the legislature. Isn't that right, Mr. Taylor?
"I don't know if we went around them. I would disagree with you," replied Taylor. Robertson made widely publicized public statements in support of Charles Taylor in 2003. However, Chris Roslan, a spokesman for Robertson, denied to ABC News that Robertson ever discussed Taylor with Bush.
But on the stand, Taylor answered, "That is correct," when asked if he had previously indicated that Robertson had met with Bush, and when asked if Robertson had volunteered to speak with high administration officials on his behalf.
"Mr. Taylor, indeed at one point you said that you can count on Pat Robertson to get Washington on your side,” lead prosecution counsel, Col. Brenda Hollis, a former U.S. Air Force officer, said to him.
Taylor replied, "I don't recall the exact words, but something to that effect."
A spokesman for Robertson, Chris Roslan, confirmed that Robertson was awarded a gold exploration concession by the Liberian government during the 1990s. But he said that there was "no quid pro quo" to provide the government with anything in return. Roslan said that Freedom Gold is no longer in operation and has never found any gold.
"This concession was granted by the Liberian government to promote economic activity and alleviate the suffering of the people of Liberia following a terrible civil war," Roslan said, adding that Robertson never met Taylor or paid him any money.
"Freedom Gold accomplished this by employing some 200 Liberians in addition to providing humanitarian efforts, including free medical care and installation of clean water wells for area residents."