LIBERIA: Ex-Ulimo fighter tells court he refused bribe from Hassan Bility “to testify against Massaquoi”

As with the trial before a Finnish district court, acquittal hearings for Gibril Massaquoi, the Sierra Leonean accused of grave human rights violations in Liberia, bribery allegations have begun to dog his acquittal hearings.

“L-1,” Tuesday’s lone witness, did not mince his words when the told the Turku Appeals Court Hassan Bility, a top Liberian human rights advocate, offered him $US200 five years ago as an inducement to testify against alleged war perpetrators George Boley, Alieu Kosiah and Mr Massaquoi, Mohammed Jabateh, commonly known as “Jungle Jabbah” and Agnes Reeves Taylor.

“When Hassan came back from the US, he picked me up from N-Zoe to go for a meeting at Mamba Point,” said L-1. “During that meeting, He (Hassan) wanted me to go and testify against people that fought the war and say those people killed people, open people’s stomach, and a whole lot of things, but I told him no.”

Mr Bility heads the Global Justice and Research Project, which partners with Civitas Maxima, a Swiss-based human rights nonprofit to help people claiming to be Liberian witnesses to formally complain against alleged warlords to European and American justice authorities.

Boley, leader of the Liberia Peace Council, was deported from the US in March 2012 for alleged human rights violations in Liberia’s first civil war.

Mr Jabateh, a top commander for the United Liberation Movement for Democracy (Ulimo), is serving a 30-year sentence in the US after his conviction for criminal immigration fraud and perjury, while Kosiah, another top Ulimo commander challenged his 20-year conviction and sentence for war crimes in January before the Appeals Chambers of the Swiss Federal Criminal Court.

In 2019, a UK Court dismissed torture charges against Mr Taylor. Mr Massaquoi, who like Kosiah, is being prosecuted under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction, (a principle that allows prosecutions of alleged perpetrators anywhere, because their alleged crimes were committed against all of humanity), is facing a challenge to his April 2022 acquittal by the Tampere District Court.

The Court said prosecutors didn’t prove beyond “a reasonable doubt” that the former Revolutionary United Front Commander had fled a “safe house” provided him by the then UN backed Special Court for Sierra Leone and came to Liberia to commit his crimes, including rape, murder, and torture.

As he did when bribery allegations came up against him in the District Court, Mr Bility dismissed the latest allegations by phone to Frontpage Africa/New Narratives.

“There is no shortage of victims of witnesses in Liberia. Witness L-1 accusation is an insult to victims of the Liberian civil crisis,” said Mr Bility.

Mr Bility claimed “GJRP’s operational budget does not reach US $20,000 how then can promise to offer a single witness (the) said amount to testify in a case?”

But on cross examination, L-1 was inconsistent about when he was allegedly offered the bribe.

This happened about 4 to 5 years ago when Hassan came from America…I think it is between there. I cannot remember the exact time,” he said, as prosecutors grilled him about the issue.

The witness had told the District Court in 2022 that the alleged offer was made to him at two separate meetings before the second phase of Mr Kosiah’s trial in May and June. The trial ended in March.

Inconsistent witness testimonies are common in these appeal hearings, as they were with the trial in the District Court.

L-1 repeatedly talked about his alleged relationship with Mr Bility, despite the inconsistencies in his testimony.

He claimed he knew Mr Bility since 1991 and that they both lived in the Jamaica Road community in Monrovia. The witness claimed that Mr Bility encouraged him to take up arms for Ulimo.

“He said we should go and liberate the Muslims,” L-1 said. “At that time, Hassan was the Secretary General for Ulimo.”

Mr Bility has always denied allegations of his involvement with Ulimo, which Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission said committed the fifth most atrocities of all the warring fictions that participated in Liberia’s two civil wars.

The hearings continue on Wednesday.

The coverage of the appeal of Massaquoi’s acquittal is a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.

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