Former Liberian president Charles Taylor challenged anyone to find a bank account of his that holds illicit funds or “blood diamonds” from the civil war in Sierra Leone.
In his second week of testimony at his war crimes trial, Taylor denied any role in forming the guerrilla force that invaded Sierra Leone in 1991, that he helped plan the rebel incursion, that he trained the rebel forces or that he commanded their operations.
“I was never involved. It’s a lie,” he told the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting in The Hague on Monday.
Taylor is charged with 11 counts of murder, torture and recruiting child soldiers for supporting rebels in Sierra Leone’s 1991-2002 civil war, whose signature crime was to amputate civilians’ limbs, ears and noses to intimidate the population into submission.
He is the first African head of state to be brought before an international court for war crimes.
Frequently agitated and thumping his desk, Taylor dismissed claims that he accepted diamonds in exchange for arms from Sierra Leone rebel leader Foday Sankoh.
“That never happened. It is blatantly untrue,” he said.
Referring to allegations that he had stashed millions of dollars in foreign bank accounts, Taylor said: “I challenge the United Nations and any human being on this planet to bring one bank account” to the court.
“Bring the millions here, please,” he said.
Allegations that Taylor was instrumental in creating and commanding the Sierra Leonean rebel force known as the Revolutionary United Front, or RUF, was a key element of the prosecution case, presented by 91 witnesses since the trial opened in January last year.
“I played no part whatsoever in organizing the RUF, none whatsoever,” Taylor told the judges. “I had no knowledge in March 1991, or before then, that a group calling itself RUF was either planning or organizing or training to attack Sierra Leone, not at all.”
He acknowledged that he began cooperating with the RUF after meeting Sankoh for the first time five months after the incursion.
His forces and Sankoh’s were fighting a third rebel outfit known as ULIMO, which controlled a swathe of territory on their common border.
He said he gave Sankoh small amounts of ammunition, a vehicle for himself and sent men to Sierra Leone to join forces with the RUF against ULIMO.