By Alpha Sesay
Defense lawyers for Charles Taylor have indicated that they want former South African President Thabo Mbeki to testify in The Hague about the circumstances under which Mr. Taylor stepped down as president of Liberia in 2003.
This was disclosed in a September 16, 2010 news article by the Associated Press (AP) after an interview with Mr. Taylor's lead defense lawyer Courtenay Griffiths, who is presently in South Africa on an investigative trip. In the AP interview, Mr. Griffiths said that he wants to speak with Mr. Mbeki about the circumstances under which Mr. Taylor stepped down as president of Liberia in 2003. Mr. Griffiths said he also wants to speak with South African weapons makers about allegations that Mr. Taylor purchased war materials in South Africa while on a visit there in the late 1990s.
"It is suggested by the prosecution that Mr. Taylor did not step down voluntarily as president of Liberia - he was forced out of office by among others, Thabo Mbeki... Mr. Taylor flatly denies that he was put under any pressure to step down," Mr. Griffiths said in his interview with the AP.
Mr. Griffiths said he believes that Mr. Mbeki's evidence about the issue would support Mr. Taylor's account that he was not forced out of power by African leaders but that he voluntarily relinquished power in 2003.
Mr. Griffiths said he has asked to meet and speak with Mr. Mbeki in South Africa. The former South African President's spokesperson, however, says that no request has been received to speak with Mr. Mbeki on the matter, the AP reports.
Mr. Griffiths has also said that he does not intend to subject Mr. Mbeki to any subpoena by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He says he wants Mr. Mbeki to voluntarily speak about the issue, and if the former South African president decides not to testify about the issue, then Mr. Taylor's defense team will not pursue it further.
Defense lawyers also want to disprove allegations that Mr. Taylor bought weapons from South African weapons makers during a 1997 visit to South Africa. Prosecutors allege that Mr. Taylor did buy war materials with proceeds from rough diamonds that were given to him by rebel forces from Sierra Leone. It is alleged that Mr. Taylor gave some of these rough diamonds to British supermodel Naomi Campbell after they both attended a star-studded dinner that was hosted by former South African president Nelson Mandela.
During Mr. Taylor's testimony in January 2010, lead prosecutor Brenda Hollis suggested in her cross-examination that when Mr. Taylor returned from South Africa in 1997, he had a problem with the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) commander General Victor Malu because General Malu believed that Mr. Taylor had brought war metarials back with him from South Africa. Mr. Taylor denied these suggestions.
Mr. Griffiths now believes that speaking with weapons makers in South Africa will help clarify whether Mr. Taylor was involved in any arms deals during his visit to South Africa.