Liberia: Prosecution Witnesses in Massaquoi Appeal Hearings Give Contradictory Testimonies, But Blame Them on Forgetfulness

Gibril Massaquoi’s acquittal hearings are before a three-judge panel. Credit: Forgbe Kloh/New Narratives.

MONROVIA, Liberia– Prosecutors in acquittal hearings for Gibril Massaquoi maybe attempting to clear the issue of reasonable doubts that saw a Finnish District Court exonerating the former Sierra Leonean rebel commander of alleged crimes in Liberia nearly a year ago, but some of their witnesses seem to be letting them down.

By Lennart Dodoo with New Narratives

All three prosecution witnesses, who testified before the Turku Appeals Court on Thursday provided prior inconsistent statements about alleged murders and rapes the former Revolutionary United Front, RUF commander committed during Liberia’s second civil war.

“Witness X7” (the Court assigns codenames to the witnesses to protect them from reprisal), who had told Finnish police he met Massaquoi three times between 2001 and 2002, did say on cross examination that he met Massaquoi four times.

“Some of these things, I couldn’t remember at the time,” said Witness X7. “But later, I met my sister who reminded me about some.”

Inconsistent testimonies by witnesses formed a significant part of the trial court’s 850-page acquittal verdict in April 2022. The Court said the prosecution did not prove beyond “a reasonable doubt” that Massaquoi, a witness for the then UN backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, sneaked out of a “safe house” and came to Liberia to commit the alleged crimes. And with the appeal hearings in Liberia nearly their closing stages, the issue is once again coming up too often, with some prosecution witnesses not only contradicting themselves about key dates of Massaquoi’s alleged crimes, but also where they allegedly took place.

During direct examination on Thursday, “Witness Y1,” another prosecution witness told the court he was captured by Massaquoi as a child soldier in Sierra Leone in 1999 and taken to Lofa County along with other RUF figures. But during cross-examination, he admitted telling Finish police and the District Court that it was “Superman,” who was believed to be one of Massaquoi’s soldiers, who did the alleged act to him.

“I said it was Massaquoi because he gave the order to Superman,” Witness Y1 said.

Y1 also told the court that Massaquoi was also known as “Angel Gabriel” (the name many witnesses have claimed was one Massaquoi’s war names), but during cross-examination, the defense reminded him that he had told the police that he had never heard the name before.

“I can’t remember telling the police that I have never heard anybody using Angel Gabriel. It’s a long time so I can’t remember.”

Another prior inconsistent statement that defense lawyers grilled him about was an accident he

told the police and District Court he and Massaquoi were involved in on the Waterside Bridge (now King Zulu Dumba Bride). However, on Thursday, he said something different.

“I remember the accident, but I do not remember exactly where the accident happened,” he said.

Vanne Kimmo, the presiding judge of the Turku Court of Appeals confronted him about his testimony to the District Court, in which he said they were involved in three different accidents.

He said: “It’s been long, I can’t remember everything.”

“Witness X7,” another prosecution witness, corroborated the testimony of a prosecution who testified on Tuesday about an alleged act of sexual assault by Massaquoi against her friend.

But he gave different names of the two women allegedly involved in the incident.

The hearings continue on Monday.

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