Liberia Witness: “American Groups Planted Me to Spy on Bility”
Mae Azango, Senior Justice Correspondent with New Narratives
MONROVIA, Liberia – Monday brought more surprising testimony at the trial of Gibril Massaquoi, the former Sierra Leonean commander of the Revolutionary United Front. A defense witness told the court from Finland, where Massaquoi was living when he was charged, that American organizations had planted him inside justice advocate Hassan Bility’s organization to spy on Bility eight years ago.
The witness claimed the unnamed organizations did this because Bility’s Global Justice Research Project, working with Swiss-based Civitas Maxima, had successfully recruited so many witnesses to testify against accused perpetrators living in the United States and Europe.
“I was planted on Mr. Bility as an inside operative by some American institutions but Bility did not know,” said the witness, codenamed L4 to protect him from retaliation. “I was not employed by Mr. Bility but I worked as a research person for him. He recruited me to lie on Agnes Taylor that she tortured and killed people. And the main reason Bility used me was because I lived in Charles Taylor’s controlled area in Gbarnga, Bong County.”
When asked by the prosecution lawyer to name the American organizations, L4 said he could not reveal the name for “confidential reasons”. The prosecutor asked if Alan White, the former chief investigator for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, was involved with the organizations.
In a twist in Friday’s session a defense witness admitted that Dr. White had called him to ask what the witness had told defense lawyers. Dr. White has a stake in the outcome of this trial for two reasons: He has spoken out against the prosecution of Mr. Massaquoi for crimes allegedly committed in Liberia because of his role as an informant with the Special Court for crimes committed in Sierra Leone. Also Dr. White’s tenure at the Court in Sierra Leone may come under question if the court finds that Mr. Massaquoi committed the crimes. Dozens of witnesses have said Mr. Massaquoi committed crimes in Monrovia during the period of June to August in 2003 when the LURD rebel group was attacking then-President Taylor’s stronghold in the months before Taylor resigned. At the time Mr. Massaquoi was supposedly under the Special Court’s United Nations witness protection in a safehouse in Freetown.
Prosecutor Tom Laitinin pressed L4. “How can we be sure that the organizations exist if you cannot give us the name?” Laitinin asked. L4 replied that he does not know who was behind the group.
Contacted by phone Mr. Bility rejected the witnesses’ claims that he had bribed witnesses and been a liaison for the Ulimo rebel group. GJRP and Civitas Maxima have worked since 2012 to gather evidence that international authorities have used to prosecute former combatants living in countries with “international jurisdiction”. International jurisdiction allows prosecutors to pursue perpetrators of crimes against humanity, meaning the crimes were so egregious they were committed against all humanity regardless of where they took place. Bility said Dr. White and others who have been charged based on evidence gathered by GJRP and Civitas, are fighting to save themselves.
“They are afraid that if he [Massaquoi] is going down, they too will go down,” said Bility.
L4 claimed his undercover role with Bility was exposed by the Finnish police. After they interviewed L4 he claims they revealed his undercover role to Bility despite promising him the information would be protected.
“I really got involved during the Agnes Taylor trial,” L4 said referring to the case against President Taylor’s former wife Agnes Reeves Taylor in the United Kingdom where she was arrested in 2017 and charged with torture. Ms. Taylor spent two years and six months in detention before the UK prosecutor’s case against her was dismissed on a technicality. Prosecutors have the option to bring another case if they obtain more evidence. Ms. Taylor’s application for permanent residence in the U.K. was denied based on the fact that there was reason to consider that she had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ms. Taylor returned to Liberia where she falsely claimed that she had been granted asylum in the U.K.
“I have given Bility many written statements about how to put lies together,” L4 claimed. “But I was disappointed, because he [a Finnish investigator] told me he shared my information with Bility, and because of it, Bility knew I was compromised. But I would have gotten more out of Bility if he had not known I had spoken with the Finnish police. I even shared information about Dr. Alan White with my Liberian brother Martin and he also shared it with the Finnish police. I was disappointed because those were privileged information.”
L4 claimed Bility bought him plane ticket to fly to Ghana to meet with the British Metropolitan Police who interviewed Agnes Taylor. After nine days he returned to Liberia. L4 said he was not offered cash by Bility but was offered something he considered of greater value.
“He promised me asylum which was to take place in London,” L4 said. “I was supposed to say Agnes Taylor tortured and killed people in my presence, but in reality, I did not see her do any of those things. He told me he wanted me to testify against Massaquoi, but I told him, I do not know Massaquoi and I have never met him before.”
Under cross examination L4 admitted that he had told Finnish police one thing and the court another. In a 2012 interview he told GJRP staff that he had seen Agnes Taylor’s men beating and torturing three people, upon her orders. In court he said it was a lie and that Bility had put him up to it.
“Bility has no shame, he is building up his defense, because I did not say those things,” L4 said. Yet just three months ago he told the Finnish police the interview with GJRP was correct.
L4 said Mr. Massaquoi’s lawyer Paula Sallinen and Dr. White called him. “Dr. White contacted me and said I was a good man because I speak the truth,” L4 told the four-judge panel.
Mr. Laitinen asked why Dr. White called L4 a good man if Dr. White knew he spoke with Bility?
“I told Dr. White the Finnish police gave my statement to Bility, and he told me to put it in writing and he would have forwarded it to the court.”
Asked when he last spoke with Dr. White L4 said: “The last time Dr. White contacted me was the day I had an interview with an online newspaper.” Asked why he spoke to the paper when he was scheduled to testify in the trial and ordered not to speak outside the court, L4 denied that he knew he was going to testify at that time.
A second defense witness codenamed L2, said he was a former Ulimo fighter. He claimed Bility called and told him to go and testify against Massaquoi, but L2 refused.
“Bility called me and said he had a piece of a job for me, and when I asked him what it was, he told me he wanted me to testify against Massaquoi and he was going to give me $US15,000 and asylum to live in any part of the world except America,” L2 claimed. “But I refused because I do not know the Massaquoi man. I did not believe Bility because he only offered me asylum and money because he wanted me to talk.”
L2 repeated the claim of a witness on Friday who said Bility was part of Ulimo. He said he knew Bility went for many of his fellow ex-combatants in the past to testify against Alieu Kosiah and Mohammed Jabbateh, cases which both ended in convictions.
The trial continues on Tuesday.
This story is a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.