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Former Liberian Leader Faces Corruption Charges


Liberia's former transitional leader, Gyude Bryant, has appeared in court, after being arrested for missing earlier appearances in his continuing embezzlement trial. The court has given him until Friday to find a new lawyer. Naomi Schwarz has the story from VOA's West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

Mr. Bryant went before the judge on Monday morning with no lawyer. After being put in jail over his refusal to appear in court last week, Mr. Bryant now says he is ready to participate in his trial.

He says he is preparing his defense.

"I am beginning now, I am entering a lot of consultations. Let us wait and see what happens on Friday," he said.

Mr. Bryant was charged in February with embezzling more than $1 million during his short time in office. He was the chairman of Liberia's transitional government for just over two years following the end of Liberia's civil war in 2003.

This week's court proceedings continue his trial, which began in March.

Speaking via cell phone after his court appearance, Mr. Bryant told VOA he is innocent.

"The charges are bogus. They are unfounded, absolutely," he said. "I mean, I headed the government. I would want to sabotage the government that I head? Does that make sense? And if I had sabotaged it, then how come we disarmed so many combatants, we had elections, the displaced people were resettled, and all of that. I mean, does it make sense?"

Mr. Bryant was charged after an audit by the Economic Community of West African States reported widespread graft during his term in office. He told VOA he is confident the trial will clear him of all charges.

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has said fighting corruption is a top priority of her administration.

Information Minister Laurence Konmla Bropleh says Mr. Bryant's trial will show past, current and future leaders they will face consequences for any misconduct.

"It will also set the stage for those who are yet to come to serve the public not to do what is not right by the people, especially abusing the public's trust," said Bropleh.

David Targbe, a radio talk-show host in the capital, Monrovia, says Liberians are pleased to see a former leader being held accountable, after initial doubts over the validity of the case.

"The issue of the culture of impunity has been in the country for a long time, so Liberians are very happy that a former leader who has been charged with corruption is being prosecuted," said Targbe. "And their only concern is that that should continue and that should not stop with the Bryant issue. That should cover all those who are linked to corruption."

Anti-corruption activists in Liberia warn work still remains to end corruption under the current government.