Liberia: Taylor's trial witnesses tainted

2011-03-10 20:05

The Hague - Witnesses in Charles Taylor's trial for backing rebels in exchange for blood diamonds were tainted by cash payments from the prosecution, the Liberian ex-president's lawyer said on Thursday.

Terry Munyard, a member of Taylor's defence team, told judges of the Special Court for Sierra Leone that the prosecution had "lavished" funds on witnesses rather than simply reimbursing them for expenses or security measures.

"This money, we say, has been used to pollute the pure waters of justice," the lawyer told the court on the second and final day of defence closing arguments in The Hague.

The funds had been used in such a way "as to taint the testimony of some of the prosecution witnesses".

Taylor, 62, is on trial for arming Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels who killed and maimed civilians, in exchange for illegally mined so-called "blood diamonds".

He is the first African head of state to face an international court.

Munyard said the case was rife with "examples of egregious implausibility and in a number of cases downright lies".

Witnesses profited

"Some of the evidence in this case demonstrates very clearly that some prosecution witnesses have... profited from their connection with the prosecution.

"The financial benefits have had an impact, whether desired or not, on the testimony."

Taylor, who was present in court on Thursday after boycotting earlier sessions, has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, conscripting child soldiers, enslavement and pillaging.

The Sierra Leone civil war claimed some 120 000 lives in the 10 years to 2001, with RUF rebels, whom prosecutors described as Taylor's "surrogate army", mutilating thousands of civilians by hacking off their limbs.

The trial, which started in earnest in January 2008, is expected to conclude this week.

Taylor's defence team has asked the court to find him not guilty.

The case was postponed to Friday, when both the prosecution and defence will get two hours each for final, rebuttal statements, after which the judges will retire to consider their judgement, expected some time in the European summer.

If the verdict is guilty, sentencing will take place a week or two after the the judgement, while any possible appeal should take about six months, bringing the case to its ultimate conclusion early next year.

Read more on:    charles taylor  |  netherlands  |  liberia  |  west africa  |  charles taylor trial  |  blood diamonds
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