- The United Nations Security Council has agreed to set up a three-member panel of experts to probe into the “hidden wealth” of the former rebel-turned President of Liberia, Charles Taylor. Experts will try to uncover Mr Taylor’s wealth he had acquired from illegal blood diamond and timber trade in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1760 (2007), asking the UN Chief, Ban Ki-Moon, to approve investigations into Mr Taylor’s “hidden wealth.”
The Council was acting on the findings by a previous UN panel that Mr Taylor might have substantial hidden assets in Liberia and Nigeria. After a five-month investigations in West Africa, the panel also discovered that Mr Taylor still has close ties with a large mobile phone company in Liberia. The previous expert panel expired last Thursday.
The new resolution seeks to create another panel that will have powers to slam travel ban on the former Liberian President and any other persons "posing a threat to the stability and security in Liberia and the sub-region".
The panel’s assignments include investigating and compiling a detailed report on the violations of the measures outlined in the UN Resolution 1521, which outlawed trade in diamonds and timber. The trades were said to have sparked rebellion in the three countries.
Mr Taylor, who is facing trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity in The Hague, is alleged to have owned significant wealth, despite claiming to be financially insolvent and unable to settle his legal bills.
A recent UN report, authored by five Security Council members investigating the impact of sanctions in Liberia, revealed that the government of Nigeria refused to freeze the assets of the ex-President, but "did not permit the panel to investigate" them.
After relinquishing power in 2003, Mr Taylor had been on exile in a villa in Calabar, Nigeria so that he would not be prosecuted on war crimes and crimes against humanity charges.
Taylor’s attempts to flee Nigeria in 2006 led to his arrest, charge and appearance before the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. At the time of being arrested at the Nigeria/Cameroon border, Taylor was "allegedly carrying a large amount of money", the panel concurs.
Mr Taylor had reportedly amassed huge amount of wealth while serving as President, especially when he was supporting Sierra Leonean rebels with arms in exchange of blood diamonds, which fuelled the hostilities in that country’s decade-long civil war.
The UN investigators accused Mr Taylor of stealing from Liberia’s treasury and transferred profits from the country’s diamond, timber and rubber industries to his own personal bank account.
It was also discovered that US $4.5 million of tax revenue from Oriental Timber Corporation was diverted to Mr Taylor’s account. The Corporation’s proprietor, Gus Kouwenhoven, was convicted by a Netherlands court last year for defying the UN sanctions and involved in illegal trafficking of arms.
Tax bills amounting to US $2 million paid by timber concession Natura Holding Pte also ended up in Taylor’s private bank account.
The exact value of Taylor’s assets or wealth is yet to be established by investigators, but it is confirmed that most of his business associates used proxies to represent their interests.
One such business is the PLC Investments Ltd., a known cell phone company for Taylor's associates in Liberia, which earned more than US $8 million in 2004 to 2006 in its share of the domestic mobile phone company Lonestar.
Investigators could not determine how much Mr Taylor had received from friends associated with these business interests.
"Millions more may have been deposited into other foreign accounts, but definitive information on the ownership of these bank accounts has been difficult to obtain," the panel said.
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