Seven years after an international warrant was issued against former Liberian president Charles Taylor, investigators have yet to find any money in his name, though his hidden wealth is estimated at between US$280 million and US$3 billion, the New York Times (NYT) said.
This wealth, which Taylor denies having access to, is believed to have come from Liberia’s timber and diamond trade, its international merchant shipping registry, tax coffers and the government of Taiwan, the NYT said on Sunday.
From 2000 though 2003, when Taylor's official presidential salary was US$24,000, records show that more than US$24 million was moved into and out of his account at the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment in Monrovia. Investigators say the money came from foreign banks, with Citibank in New York acting as the clearinghouse and processing the transfers, the NYT wrote.
All but US$4 million of that US$20 million came from the government of Taiwan in eight separate payments, as Taipei was engaging in checkbook diplomacy to maintain diplomatic recognition amid fierce competition from Beijing.
Beijing first broke off relations with Liberia in 1989 after Monrovia recognized Taiwan. China re-established ties with Liberia on Aug. 10, 1993, and until October 2003, Liberia was one of the few countries to have official diplomatic ties with both Taipei and Beijing. After Taylor was ousted and forced into exile in late 2003, one of the first acts of the new Liberian government was to cut diplomatic ties with Taipei.
Taylor was indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague on June 4, 2003, on 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. His trial began on Jan. 6, 2008. In court, Taylor said the funds earmarked for various projects sponsored by Taiwan covered military salaries, Balkan arms deals and “the airlift of wounded bombing victims,” the NYT wrote.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the money was intended for AIDS medicine, a children's center, as well as vocational training and charity contributions.
Michel Lu (呂慶龍), ministry spokesman during former president Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) administration and now Taiwan's envoy to France, said in an interview that Taipei “deeply regretted” the “humiliating” turn of events, adding that because of Taiwan's isolation, it had been under great pressure from Taylor, who “threatened to cut off relations,” the NYT reported.
“Frankly speaking, nobody can tell you where it [the money] went,” Lu said.