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Activists Call for US Televangelist to Testify at Taylor Trial


Celebrities Naomi Campbell and Mia Farrow have testified at the Charles Taylor trial, but activists say it also would be useful for a well-known U.S. televangelist to make an appearance. The founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network has been mentioned at the West African war-crimes trial and had mining interests in Liberia when Mr. Taylor was president.

Evangelist Pat Robertson has not been called to testify in the Charles Taylor war-crimes trial, but his name has come up at the trial in the Hague.

The former Liberian president was asked if he had previously said that as Liberian president he could count on getting U.S. government support through Robertson. Mr. Taylor replied he did not remember the exact words, but he had said something to that effect about the American preacher.

After the testimony, several American bloggers on the Internet called for Robertson to be a co-defendant in the trial.

Mr. Taylor has denied the war crimes charges against him. He is alleged to have received diamonds from rebels in Sierra Leone in exchange for weapons in a conflict marked by limb amputations and the use of child soldiers.

During Mr. Taylor's presidency and while fighting raged in neighboring Sierra Leone, Robertson was awarded a gold-mining concession in southeastern Liberia. Researcher Rob Boston, from the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has examined Robertson's activities in Africa. He says he also believes bringing Robertson to the Hague could be useful.

"Pat Robertson claimed, for example, that he never met Charles Taylor," said Boston. "He claimed that his dealings were with the country of Liberia, not with Charles Taylor, but lot of critics believed that really those two were synonymous and anything you did with Liberia, you were doing directly with Charles Taylor. It would have been interesting to shed a little light on that arrangement that those two had and see exactly what was going on there."

Mr. Taylor came to power after he led a rebellion in a civil war that also was marked by the use of child soldiers.

Human-rights campaigners characterized his rule as being in charge of a government-wide mafia in Liberia, all the while masterminding rebels in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast.

While rebels fought against Mr. Taylor in Liberia, Robertson condemned then U.S. President George W. Bush for asking Taylor to step down. He said the U.S. government was, in his words, undermining a Christian, Baptist president to bring in Muslim rebels.

A prosecutor at the war crimes trial said millions of dollars that Robertson spent on the mine had gone directly into Mr. Taylor's pockets, a charge the former Liberian president denied.

In a presentation video on his Christian Broadcasting Network website, Robertson is asked about his links with Mr. Taylor and Liberia.

"If your desire is to help the people of a country, it is necessary to work with the existing government," said Robertson. "In terms of Liberia, I was accused of being associated with Charles Taylor. I never met Charles Taylor in my life. I have never met him once. I spoke to him once on the telephone, but he called me, but I have never seen him in my life."

Robertson also received mining rights in the former Zaire in the 1990s to look for diamonds.

In a report in the Virginia Pilot newspaper in 1997, two pilots were quoted as saying Robertson used planes owned by his tax-exempt humanitarian, Virginia-based organization "Operation Blessing," almost exclusively to transport equipment for his mining interests in Africa, instead of bringing supplies to refugees of Rwanda's genocide.

After an investigation that called for an indictment, then Virginia Attorney General Mark Early, a friend and a recipient of Robertson's campaign contributions, decided not to indict the televangelist.

Activists alleged there had been a conflict of interest.

Chris Roslan, a spokesman for Robertson, responded to a VOA interview request with an e-mail saying the allegations were fully investigated and the Virginia attorney general found there was no wrongdoing. He also said Robertson's company, Freedom Gold, never found gold in Liberia.

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