Liberia: Former NPFL Leader Convicted on 11 Counts of Immigration Fraud in the U.S.
PHILADELPHIA – A jury has found Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu, former number two in the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, guilty on 11 counts of criminal immigration fraud.
Report by Tecee Boley and Adrienne Tingba in Philadelphia and James Harding Giahyue in Monrovia
At the end of the three-week trial, the jury of 8 men and 4 women took one day of deliberations to reach a verdict. They found him guilty on all counts related to persecution of Liberians during the war at the hands of the NPFL. On 5 counts related to his immigration interview and his failure to list the NPFL among his associations, the jury found him not guilty.
One by one the charges were read to the court by the jury foreperson, and one after the other, the words repeated itself. ‘Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.” Woewiyu looked serious as the counts were read. He closed his eyes at one point and then looked down. His son, Jucontee the second, ran from the courtroom after the last count was read.
Woewiyu embraced other family and supporters in the room. He had a brief smile for them. His other children were not there.
US Assistant District Attorney Linwood C. Wright requested Woeiwyu be put under house arrest awaiting the sentencing hearing on October 15th at 10am.
Woewiyu and his supporters left the courthouse by a backdoor escaping reporters. His attorney Mark Wilson said they were “disappointed”. He said there would likely be an appeal as “there were a lot of issues” with the case.
Outside the court Wright told reporters he was pleased with the verdict. Wright and his team have traveled to Liberia on multiple occasions to prepare for this trial and the earlier trial of Mohammed Jabbateh. He said he hoped this verdict would bring some comfort to Liberia’s war victims.
“We hope some of them find some solace in this and understand that there are people who care about their experience and want to see them have justice,” Wright said.
Wright paid tribute to the Liberian victims of the NPFL who came from Liberia and the US to testify before the court and relive the traumatic moments when Woewiyu and his soldiers held their lives in their hands.
“They were brave, brave, brave witnesses,” Wright said. “They came here because they were aggrieved and they wanted justice. When people are abused and when people feel that they don’t have any redress it has all sorts of effects that cascade from that. We are happy that hopefully there are people in Liberia today who will feel like there is a chance for justice.”
In Monrovia victims celebrated the verdict:
“Thomas Woewiyu’s trial is crucially significant for Liberia. Never before were the crimes of the NPFL described in such detail in a courtroom. An important piece of our history was documented during this trial” said Hassan Bility, an awarded human rights defender and director Global Justice Research Project which assisted the US authorities with the investigation in conjunction with their partner Civitas Maxima.
“We are very much happy, it is what victims and survivors want. It will serve as deterrent for others. These are the people who caused a serious problem for Liberia today that made people to get kill, made some homely and now making others to go astray,” said Peterson Sonyah, Liberia Massacre Survivors Association.
In Philadelphia Massa Washington, former TRC commissioner, said the verdict was, “a precedent for the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia because he is so high up in the NPFL. He’s the highest up that has ever been convicted for crimes in Liberia. So it shattered the ceiling of the argument for a war crimes court.”
The three-week trial focused on the first three years of the Liberian civil war when Woewiyu helped found the NPFL with Charles Taylor and others in the US and then launched a campaign to overthrow president Samuel Doe. Witness testimony from victims, Liberian and international journalists and US diplomats documented the NPFL’s use of child soldiers and targeting of ethnic groups.
Many witnesses came and talked of the horrors they saw and suffered. One witness told the court that Woewiyu had sentenced her teenage brother to death, another told of being recruited against his will to fight for the NPFL on the front lines.
Woewiyu will face 110 years in jail and $4m when judge Anita Brody sentences him in October.
This story was produced in collaboration with New Narratives. Funding was provided by Civitas Maxima. The funder had no say in the story’s content.