Adviser Says Taylor Was Double-Crossed
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone – Nigerian security forces encouraged former Liberian President Charles Taylor to flee and helped him get to the Cameroon border before the same agents turned around and arrested him in a double-cross, his spiritual adviser said.
Meanwhile, Taylor's family accused an international war tribunal of denying him access to lawyers he requested and trying to foist on him court-appointed defenders.
Taylor, the first former African president to be charged with crimes against humanity, is to appear Monday before the tribunal to face 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including sexual slavery and mutilation. Liberian lawyers hoping to represent him said they will argue for the case to be dismissed.
Many were suspicious when Nigeria's government announced Taylor's disappearance last week, just days after Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo reluctantly agreed to hand him over from the exile haven he had been offered under an internationally brokered peace agreement ending Liberia's 14-year civil war.
Taylor's spiritual adviser, the Indian evangelist Kilari Anand Paul, said Taylor told him in a phone call from jail on Saturday that State Security Service agents came with two vehicles to his villa in southeastern Nigeria the night of March 28.
Taylor said they escorted him north, then released him "in the middle of nowhere," according to Paul, who spoke from his home in Houston. "He said, `Where are you guys going?' And they said they received instructions to leave him and they left."
Before Taylor could cross into Cameroon, the agents who had freed him "turned up and arrested him ... they had guns and told him to surrender himself," said Paul, who met Taylor in 2003 and says he helped broker Taylor's exile to Nigeria.
Nigeria again denied the allegation. "The story is a far-fetched figment of his jaundiced imagination," a spokesman for the Nigerian leader, Femi Fani-Kayode, told The Associated Press. "He must have been reading too many James Bond novels."
For two days, Nigeria had resisted calls from the United States, human rights organizations and others to arrest Taylor to ensure that he would stand trial. He was arrested Wednesday in northern Nigeria and taken to the war tribunal in Sierra Leone, established to try those seen as bearing greatest responsibility for atrocities during Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war.
Principal court defender Vincent Nmehielle said he had received calls from lawyers from all over the world wanting to represent Taylor and that the indicted Liberian warlord had told him he wanted time to get together a top-notch team and was happy to be represented by Nmehielle at Monday's hearing, where he will be formally charged and asked to enter a plea.
Nmehielle said Taylor had asked his office to contact two lawyers he was interested in joining his defense team: Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz and British lawyer Karim Khan, who represented Taylor when he challenged the jurisdiction of the war tribunal in 2003.
Louise Edna Taylor-Carter, Taylor's eldest sister, said the former Liberian leader's family brought lawyers with them when they arrived in Freetown on Friday. But she said the lawyers — from Liberia and Ghana — had been forced to leave the court compound and she did not believe Taylor could get a fair trial under the circumstances.
She said the six family members in Sierra Leone had also been denied access to him.
"What I am saying is that he is in a hostile environment and that he will never get a free trial here where we are being denied access to him," she said.
Nmehielle said the family had to go through security and other checks that could not be done over the weekend, and that Taylor had told him he did not want to see other lawyers.
At the war crimes tribunal, Taylor is accused of backing Sierra Leonean rebels notorious for maiming civilians by chopping off their arms, legs, ears and lips. In return for supporting them, he allegedly got a share of Sierra Leone's diamond wealth he used to fund his ambitions in Liberia.
The leader of Taylor's defense team, Francis Garlawulo, said Taylor was president when he was indicted in 2003 and argued the U.N.-backed court had no jurisdiction over Liberia or its head of state. The court's appeals chamber rejected a similar argument made by a lawyer for Taylor after the indictment was filed.
Garlawulo also questioned whether Taylor could receive a fair trial given intense publicity surrounding the case, saying in recent days images of Sierra Leoneans maimed by rebel fighters have dominated the world's television screens.
Taylor is making his initial appearance in Sierra Leone, but Special Court officials have requested that an international court in The Hague, Netherlands, host the trial. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has expressed fear that if the trial is held in the region, Taylor's supporters could use it as an excuse to mount another insurgency in her country.