Liberia: Tom Woewiyu Cautions Reporters to Pay Attention at Start of Trial


PHILADELPHIA – A confident Thomas Woewiyu warned reporters to “pay attention” as he strode from the Philadelphia Federal courthouse after day one of his trial for criminal immigration fraud here.

Report by Jackson Kanneh, [email protected]

Woewiyu faces 16 counts of immigration fraud related to war crimes he is alleged to have committed as top lieutenant of former president and convicted war criminal Charles Taylor during Liberia’s civil wars. He faces 110 years jail if convicted and a fine of $4m.

Woewiyu spoke to reporters at the end of a long day of jury selection in which the pool of 75 was cut down to 16 (12 jurors and 4 alternates) whose verdict will decide the case.

The screening process delayed the opening briefs by federal prosecutors in a trial that they have prepared for since 2014.

Woewiyu will become the second high-ranking ex-Liberian warlord to face a U. S. jury for immigration fraud and other violations linked to war crimes allegedly perpetrated in Liberia in the 1990s. Mohammed Jabbateh was sentenced to 30 years jail in April after being convicted of four counts of immigration fraud. Jabbateh’s sentence is likely to be the longest ever given for immigration fraud in the US.

In the guerrilla group where Woewiyu served as a general and Defense Minister, he was the second highest ranking official under Charles Taylor who is serving a 50-year term in a U.K. prison for his role in the civil war in Sierra Leone.

Woewiyu, 71, was in court on Monday flanked by three attorneys from the Philadelphia public defender’s office. He appeared visibly calm and confident in a dark gray suit. Woewiyu has been living under a monitored parole at his home in Collingdale, Pa after posting bond in 2015.

U. S. prosecutors are expected to open their briefs on Tuesday with blazing attacks on Woewiyu’s role in the bloodshed that killed more than 250,000 people and left half the population displaced.

Prosecutors will inform jurors that they have proof of Woewiyu’s role and influence in the militia that recruited and drugged child soldiers and other crimes they described as “particularly heinous.” They are expected to raise the cases of five American nuns who were murdered during 1992 Operation Octopus which was carried out under Woewiyu’s command.

Day two of the trial begins at 10am Tuesday.

This story was produced in collaboration with New Narratives. Civitas Maxima provided funding. The funder had no say in the story’s content.