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Liberia's Former Leader Bryant Is Arrested in Corruption Probe


Liberia's former transitional leader Gyude Bryant has been arrested after he failed to appear in court this week to face corruption charges. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our West Africa bureau in Dakar.

Court officials said a clerk went to Mr. Bryant's Monrovia home Friday, asking him to go to court.

The former chairman of the national transitional government of Liberia told journalists on his cell phone that he obliged, and that he was then taken to the city's maximum security prison.

The arrest follows Mr. Bryant's failure to report to court this week for the resumption of a trial on the alleged disappearance of money from state coffers between 2003 and 2006.

A talk show host in Liberia's capital, David Targbe, says the case has aroused people's interest. "People are talking about it because of his failure for the second time this week to show up in court," said Targbe. "It is the talk of the town. Everybody is just talking about it."

Targbe says many Liberians are siding with Mr. Bryant, as they credit him for helping end Liberia's drawn-out civil war.

"People are saying that if the government does not have any evidence against Bryant, that he should be taken off the books, if the government cannot show clear evidence to prosecute him," added Targbe. "People are judging the government wants to disgrace him after leading the country to elections that brought President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to power."

Mr. Bryant has said he is the victim of a vendetta, and that the case violates his constitutional rights. He says he oversaw lots of financial transfers when he was in power, and that some of them were classified.

But the current Liberian government says Mr. Bryant does not benefit from any immunity. They say the corruption charges followed an audit by the Economic Community of West African States. It revealed the disappearance of millions of dollars, and pinpointed Mr. Bryant for allegedly receiving a kickback of about $1 million.

An anti-corruption activist, James Makor agrees Mr. Bryant should be treated as any other Liberian. "He should not be looked at as an individual. The system is being overhauled and they are testing their legitimacy," said Makor. "He is just the first person to be looked at so it is not that he is being targeted as an individual."

Makor would like to see other corruption trials take place, but applauds government efforts. "So far they are on course," he said. "It is a system they are putting in place that will serve as a deterrent for other public officials that would be in a tendency of taking government funds."

But he warns it is not just previous corruption that should be investigated, but corruption under the current government as well that must be aggressively stopped.

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