A Liberian, accused of hiding his past as a top brass to warlord Charles Ghanky Taylor, has been convicted on federal immigration fraud charges in Philadelphia, USA.
Thomas Jucontee Woewiyu is the second historic verdict of its kind in Philadelphia and one that renewed calls for further accountability in the West African nation where war criminals have gone largely unpunished for decades, US media reports said recently.
It said Woewiyu, 73, was former spokesperson and defense minister for Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), and is the highest-ranking official to be found guilty of crimes tied to the numerous documented atrocities that occurred during Liberia’s civil war that spanned some 14 years.
His conviction comes months after a Liberian in East Lansdowne, Mohammed “Jungle Jabbah” Jabateh as sentenced to 30 years in prison in a similar case tied to misdeeds committed while fighting against Taylor’s forces.
Neither Woeiwyu nor Jabateh was specifically charged with the acts of torture, ethnically targeted killing, and conscription of child soldiers that government witnesses attributed to them or their fighters.
But during the civil war, Woewiyu and his buddy Taylor fell out over policy differences, with the then Defence Minister joining ranks with lawyer Laveli Supuwood and Samuel Dokie, all top NPFL figures, to form a breakaway faction.
Dokie was to die later in a bizarre fashion and his body and those of three others found near his vehicle scarred and abandoned along the Gbarnga highway.
The reports said federal prosecutors and human-rights advocates claimed victory in the convictions of both Woewiyu and Jabateh.
The US media reports said in keeping with his stoic behavior throughout the three-week trial, Woewiyu sat stone-faced as the jury forewoman read out 11 guilty verdicts to counts including perjury and attempting to fraudulently obtain U.S. citizenship. He was acquitted of five additional counts.
Woewiyu declined to comment as he left the courthouse with his family after the verdict, while U.S. District Judge Anita Brody ordered him kept under house arrest until his sentencing in October.
Much of the testimony during the trial came from about a dozen Liberians flown in from Africa to recount their experiences during the war, according to the media reports.
Since his 2014 arrest at Newark International Airport, Woewiyu has maintained that he was unaware of the worst excesses of Taylor’s regime and that he always had been open with U.S. authorities about his ties to the NPFL.
At the height of the conflict in the 1990s, he had frequent conversations with U.S. State Department officials and discussed his role in depth with FBI agents investigating another Liberian in 2012, the reports said.