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Three-Man Team Appointed to Defend Former Liberian President


A new team has been appointed to defend former Liberian president Charles Taylor. Mr. Taylor fired his original lawyer in the opening days of his trial last month. Selah Hennessy reports from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar.

London-based attorney Courtenay Griffiths has been named chief lawyer, along with two assistants, Andrew Cayley and Terry Munyard.

Vincent Nmehielle is the principal defender for the Special Court of Sierra Leone. He says Mr. Taylor has a strong team.

"Of course Mr. Courtenay Griffiths is one of the very formidable and leading QCs in the UK," he said. "Andrew Cayley comes with a robust criminal international lawyer experience as well, and Terry Munyard also comes with quite a number of years of criminal advocacy."

He says many attorneys were interested in the case and met with Mr. Taylor, but the former president decided this team would be best suited to his case.

"Out of the many that saw Mr. Taylor he thought that these individuals bring quite a lot that will be very useful to his case," said Nmehielle.

Mr. Taylor fired his court-appointed defense lawyer, Karim Khan, at the beginning of his trial in June. He said the court had not provided him enough money to hire a strong defense team, capable of competing with the nine-member prosecution.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is conducting the trial from The Hague, has since increased his defense funding to $100,000 a month - nearly three times the allowance given to other defense teams in the Special Court.

Nmehielle says the court agreed that a larger budget was needed to ensure Mr. Taylor is given a fair trial.

"The court looked into the objections raised by prior council in terms of adequacy of resources and fair trial," he said. "There was a good state effort in ensuring that more resources are made available and that is exactly what has happened."

But Alex Yearsley of the London-based non-governmental organization Global Witness, says Mr. Taylor has tried to manipulate the trial, and firing his original lawyer was merely a means of delaying proceedings.

"I think it is very clear that that was a delaying tactic by Taylor to try and ensure that the trial basically takes as long as possible, but also so he can try and get some more money out of the court to pay for a defense team," he said.

He says that Mr. Taylor, who has said he has no money to pay for a defense, clearly has millions stashed away.

"Personally speaking, I think it is absolutely disgusting that someone like Taylor is getting public money from the U.N. and the tax payer to pay for his legal defense," Yearsley said. "He has more than enough money that he had stolen from Liberia and the Liberian people and I think he should pay for his own defense."

Mr. Taylor is accused of giving arms and support to Sierra Leonean rebel groups, in exchange for diamonds, during the country's decade-long civil war.

He has pleaded not guilty on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including mass murder, rape, and the use of child soldiers. The trial is expected to resume August 20.

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