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Charles Taylor: Pat Robertson was my man in Washington

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor, testifying in his own war crimes trial today, said that the American conservative evangelist Pat Robertson was awarded a Liberian gold-mining concession in 1999 and subsequently offered to lobby the Bush administration to support his government.

The revelations came in the midst of a U.N.-backed trial of Taylor at The Hague on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity during Sierra Leone's 1990s civil war. Taylor is accused of directing a Sierra Leone rebel group, the United Revolutionary Front (RUF), in a campaign aimed at securing access to the country's diamond mines. The rebel movement stands accused of committing mass atrocities in the late 1990s in the West African country, including the mutilation of thousands of civilians.

The international prosecutors contend that Taylor offered concessions to Western individuals in exchange for lobbying work aimed at enhancing his image in the United States. The prosecution maintains that Taylor also spent $2.6 million on lobbying firms and public relations outfits in the hopes of influencing the policies of former President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Under cross-examination, Taylor said that Robertson had volunteered to make Liberia's case before U.S. administration officials, and had spoken directly to President Bush about Taylor. He also confirmed that Robertson's company, Freedom Gold Limited, signed an agreement to exploit gold in southeastern Liberia, but that it never generated any profit.

"Mr. Taylor, indeed at one point you said that you can count on Pat Robertson to get Washington on your side," he was asked by the lead prosecution counsel, Col. Brenda Hollis, a former U.S. Air Force officer. 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 the company, 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," said Roslan, adding that Robertson had 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."