The immigration lawyer for the Defense Minister in Charles Taylor’s former rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) during that country’s brutal civil war says his client will be exonerated of the charge of lying on his application for U.S. citizenship.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents Monday arrested Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu at Newark Airport on his return from Liberia and charged him with lying by failing to disclose his alleged affiliation with a “violent political group in Liberia”.
But attorney Raymond Basso says Woewiyu later in 2009, at the request of U.S. immigration, submitted information clarifying his involvement with the NPFL.
The indictment said that as NPFL defense minister during Liberia’s civil war, Woewiyu presided over a brutal military campaign during which perceived adversaries were tortured, civilians were executed, girls and women were raped and forced into sex slavery.
But in his application for U.S. citizenship, according to the indictment, Woewiyu said he had never advocated for the overthrow of any government by force or violence and that he had never persecuted any person.
Basso says contrary to reports, Woewiyu is not being charged as a war criminal.
“They are not charging him as a war criminal; you see that’s the misconception that I’ve been reading. Basically, they’re saying that the U.S. is holding him out to be a war criminal, which in a sense is true. They are holding him to be that way, but they’re only charging him with lying on an application,” Basso said.
Basso said he’s confident Woewiyu will be acquitted.
“What do I think is going to happen? I think he’s going to be exonerated simply because, whether or not he made a misrepresentation or omitted something on his original application, when I got involved in the case and the government asked us for information, we responded in writing and laid out all his participation and role in the Taylor regime,” he said.
Basso said U.S. immigration officials in 2010 turned down Woewiyu’s corrected application.
Woewiyu, who has been living in the United States, returned to Liberia recently and local reports said he was contemplating running for a senatorial seat for Grand Bassa County during this year’s Liberia midterm elections.
Local reports also said Woewiyu has been critical of the way in which President Ellen Johnson’s government has been handling the discovering of oil near Grand Bassa, Woewiyu’s home county.
Basso would not speculate whether political considerations were behind Mr. Woewiyu’s arrest, but he questioned the timing.
“I don’t know the motivation for charging him now. The government has had this information since 2009. They denied it (his application) in 2010. Actually, he filled out the application in 2006. Why are they waiting eight years to charge him? I don’t know their motivation,” Basso said.
He said Woewiyu is expected to appear before a federal magistrate on Thursday to determine bond.
If found guilty, Woewiyu faces up to 110 years in prison and up to $4 million in fines for lying on his application, according to the U.S. Justice Department.