|Prosecutor: Pat Robertson Had Gold Deal with African Dictator|
|By ANNA SCHECTER||Feb 4, 2010, 3:35 PM|
Prosecutors at the human rights trial of former Liberian warlord Charles Taylor alleged Thursday that Christian televangelist Pat Robertson had lobbied the White House on Taylor's behalf in return for a gold mining contract.
The controversial pastor and former Republican presidential contender met with then-President George W. Bush on Taylor's behalf, prosecutors charged during cross-examination of Taylor in a Dutch courtroom, allegedly in return for a contract to mine gold in southeast Liberia -- a contract they say that Taylor had no legal right to grant.
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.
Taylor is being tried in the Netherlands by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, an independent judicial body under the auspices of the United Nations that receives a third of its funding from the U.S.
The gold deal went through in June 1999, with Robertson allegedly pumping $15 million dollars into the project.
Hollis asserted that much of the money went straight into Taylor's pockets, which Taylor denied.
Robertson's company, of which he was president and sole director, was called Freedom Gold, Ltd. The agreement gave the Liberian government 10 percent equity interest in the company and Liberians could purchase at least 15 percent of the shares after the exploration period.
Roslan, Robertson's spokesman, said Freedom Gold's arrangement was similar to many American companies doing business in Africa at the time.
"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, who denied any quid pro quo for granting the concession, and said that Robertson saw this as a way to help the suffering people of Liberia.
Freedom Gold is not currently operating and has never commercially produced any gold, according to Roslan.
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Taylor's defense team declined a request for comment from ABC News.
Taylor is charged with masterminding the atrocities, such as mass rape and amputation of civilians, in Sierra Leone (which shares a border with Liberia) in order to take advantage of the country's vast natural resources, including diamonds.
Taylor is currently on the stand for cross-examination. Prosecutors told ABC News that Friday will be Taylor's last day on the stand.
Over the course of the two-year long trial, Taylor has grabbed headlines by firing his first attorney and converting to Judaism. United Nations officials decided that for security reasons it would be safer to try Taylor at the International Criminal Court in the Hague rather than in Sierra Leone where the atrocities occurred.
Prosecutors have accused Taylor, who served as Liberia's president from 1997 to 2003, of ordering his subordinates to murder and mutilate civilians, cut off their limbs, use women and girls as sex slaves, abduct adults and children, and force them to perform labor or become fighters to further his economic and political ambitions in the region. Taylor has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Defense attorney Griffiths has previously blasted the War Crimes Tribunal as "racist," and a tool of American foreign policy.
In October, former lead prosecutor Stephen Rapp told ABC News that illegal diamond money was a major motivation for Taylor's rape of his neighboring Sierra Leone: "It's [Sierra Leone's} rich diamond fields which financed the continued conflict, and according to our evidence, was part of the motivation for Taylor in going in there and carrying out a conflict that ranged across the 1990s with an increased level of atrocity against the civilian population."