Press Release / June 24, 2003

Open Statement - Global Witness welcomes the freezing of Liberian assets in Swiss banks; supports thorough investigation of all accounts linked to President Charles Taylor and his associates

Global Witness welcomes the Swiss government's decision to provisionally block and investigate Swiss bank accounts linked to Liberian President Charles Taylor, his family, members of the Liberian government and various businesspeople with ties to the Liberia (1). The Special Court in Sierra Leone, which recently indicted President Taylor for war crimes (2), made the request to the Swiss government as part of its ongoing investigations into the atrocities committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. The accounts in question may hold significant sums of money that was misappropriated from the Liberian economy over the last fourteen years and used for personal enrichment, the financing of arms imports in violation of a UN arms embargo (3), and the support of rebel groups in both Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire (4).

"Global Witness is optimistic that, given the instructions of the Swiss government, Swiss banks will successfully investigate Liberian deposits, uncovering ill-gotten assets linked to President Taylor and his associates," says Alice Blondel, Global Witness Lead Campaigner. "President Taylor, an indicted war criminal, has for years been involved in siphoning off revenue from the Liberian logging industry and other income sources, hiding the money in bank accounts outside the country, in order to fund the violent destabilisation of Liberia and neighbouring states." Global Witness investigations have uncovered details of the Liberian government's backing of rebels in Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire, as well as secret bank accounts in Switzerland and Burkina Faso, opened on behalf of President Charles Taylor, through which revenue has allegedly been directed to finance extra-budgetary expenditures (5).

Says Blondel, "Hopefully, a thorough investigation of Liberian assets by Swiss banks will be a first step toward ensuring Liberian revenue is used to promote peace and economic development in Liberia, and not to finance the country's own destruction."

Notes for the Editor:

(1) 'Taylor's accounts blocked as provisional measure; legal assistance requested by Special Court for Sierra Leone', Press release of the (Swiss) Federal Office of Justice, 23 June 2003.
(2) Press Release by David Crane, Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, 4 June 2003.
(3) Security Council Resolution 1343 (2001).
(4) 'The Usual Suspects: Liberia's weapons and mercenaries in Cote d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone', Global Witness, March 2003; 'Logging Off: how the Liberian timber industry fuels Liberia's humanitarian disaster and threatens Sierra Leone', Global Witness, September 2002; 'Taylor-made: the pivotal role of Liberia's forests and flag of convenience in regional conflict', Global Witness, September 2001.
(5) 'The Usual Suspects', page 18.

For any questions, please contact Alice Blondel, Lead Campaigner - Liberia, at +44 (0)207-272-6731.