Monrovia – The Finnish Court of Appeal this week upheld a not guilty verdict in favor of Gibril Massaquoi, a former commander and spokesman of the Revolutionary United Front, of Sierra Leone. Massaquoi was arrested in 2020, Finland by the authority there and was subsequently charged for atrocities committed during the Liberian civil war.
By Victoria G. Wesseh, FPA JUDICIAL REPORTER
Massaquoi was accused of rape, ritual, murder and recruiting child soldiers, in Liberia.
Initially, the district court, in its ruling found that the Finnish prosecutors did not prove that Mr. Massaquoi was guilty of any of the offences he was charged with. However, following the Appeals Court decision on January 31, 2024, Gibril’s Liberian lawyer, Cllr. Jonathan T. Massaquoi (no relationship) described the judgment of acquittal as a victory for the rule of law.
Massaquoi and his Finnish lawyers chose Cllr. Jonathan Massaquoi, when the District Court was first located to Liberia for two months in early February 2023, to hear Liberian witnesses’ testimonies.
The District Court setup in Liberia was a result of a complaint filed by both Hassan Bility, the founder of the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) and Alian Werner and Civitas Maxima, an organization based in Geneva, Switzerland.
Both parties claimed that there were Liberian witnesses who were willing to testify against Gibril Massaquoi’s atrocities in Lofa County and Monrovia in 2001. However, Cllr Massaquoi, at a news conference accused Bility and Werner of coaching the witnesses to provide misleading testimonies in exchange for financial gain.
According to Cllr. Massaquoi, his main priority was to research the Liberian law and provide interpretation to his Finnish counterparts. Cllr. Massaquoi is reportedly under consideration to be nominated for the post of Minister of Justice and Attorney General by President Joseph Nyumah Boakai.
Cllr. Massaquoi has been on a roll of late. He recently represented Agnes Reeves Taylor, the ex-wife of former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Madam Agnes Reeves Taylor is seeking US$15 million defamation suit against Werner, Civitas Maxima, and Bility, at the Liberian Civil Law Court for her prosecution by a UK Court.
Regarding the Gibril Massaquoi case, the Court of Appeals ruled that the prosecutors claimed that certain murders alleged to have been committed in Lofa County and in Monrovia but were unable to prove their case.
The Court of Appeal, said concerning the events in Lofa County, only a few witnesses had identified Mr. Massaquoi as the perpetrator. “All these identifications had been made after Mr. Massaquoi was arrested in Finland in March 2020 and the arrest had been made public in the media with photographs of Mr. Massaquoi included in the reports.”
According to the Court of Appeal the evidence presented in the case suggests that Mr. Massaquoi had not been in Lofa County at the time, between August and December 2001 of the offences referred to in the charges. It was proven that he had resided in a safe house of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, from March 2003 until and beyond the 18th of August 2003, the judgments noted.
According to the evidence presented in the case there had not been any periods of several days during which Massaquoi’s presence in the safe house would not have been controlled in a reliable manner. “The evidence, evaluated as a whole, suggests rather convincingly that Mr. Massaquoi had not been in Liberia when the offences in Monrovia referred to in the charges had been committed (ie. between the 1st of May and the 8th of August 2003),” the court ruling said.