Former Defense Minister Thomas Woewiyu began trial on Monday in Philadelphia on multiple charges of immigration fraud, perjury and false statements about his naturalization.
According to the Associated Press, Woewiyu is accused of lying on his U.S. citizenship application about his ties to convicted war criminals, including former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Prosecutors alleged that the former Liberian official lied about his role in those civil war atrocities while applying for U.S. citizenship in 2006.
“He allegedly checked “no” when asked if he had any political affiliations or had ever joined in an attempted coup,” the report reveals.
He is, however, not to first Liberian to be tried for immigration crimes. Mohammed Jabbateh, known as Jungle Jabbah, was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for similar offences in April. The son of former President Taylor, Charles McArthur Emmanuel, also known as Chuckie Taylor, was convicted in 2008 for 97 years in prison by a federal court in Florida for torturing or ordering the torture of dozens of his father’s political opponents.
In Woewiyu’s case, the AP report revealed that defense lawyers previously said that, unlike Jabbateh, their client did not take part in the brutal atrocities related to Taylor’s rush to overthrow the previous government.
The indictment provided that Woewiyu served under Taylor in the 1990s, and earlier helped start the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, which mounted a violent campaign to depose Taylor’s predecessor, Samuel Doe.
“He served as the party’s defense minister, and later as Taylor’s labor minister and as president pro tempore of the Senate,” the indictment further noted.
Since 1970, the accused has lived in the Philadelphia area and attended college in the U.S., while commuting back and forth to Liberia and at times even serving in the Senate, the report further disclosed.
He is also a co-defendant in a recent civil lawsuit filed at a federal district court in Boston, Massachusetts against individuals who are alleged to be the main perpetrators and sponsors of atrocities committed against civilians, including violence, torture, and rape, during the country’s bloody civil war.
Alain Werner, director of Geneva-based Civitas Maxima, which provides independent legal representation to victims of war crimes, said the trial is significant in the U.S. and Liberia and is a step toward “global justice.”
“This case demonstrates that justice movements will find access to legal avenues in creative ways and that perpetrators will be held accountable,” Werner said.
Featured photo by J. Stephen Conn