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Former Liberia Defense Minister Denied Bail by US Judge

Former Liberian defense minister Tom Woewiyu was arrested last week in New Jersey and charged with failure to disclose his alleged affiliation with Charles Taylor's rebel movement.
A former Liberian defense minister has been denied bail by a U.S. judge, after it was determined he is a flight risk.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents last week arrested Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu at Newark Airport on his return from Liberia and charged him with lying on his citizenship application by failing to disclose his alleged affiliation with a “violent political group in Liberia.”

Woewiyu served as defense minister in Charles Taylor’s former rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), during that country’s civil war. His immigration lawyer, Raymond Basso, said his client amended his citizenship application to include his participation in the Taylor regime.

Linwood C. Wright, assistant U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Philadelphia, said Judge Judith Faith Angell denied bail because she believed Woewiyu might try to leave the country.

“There was a detention hearing and Mr. Woewiyu was ordered detained by a U.S. magistrate judge. The judge found that he (Woewiyu) was a flight risk, and so she ordered him detained pending his trial,” Wright said.

Raymond Basso, Woewiyu’s immigration lawyer, told VOA last week the case against his client was purely an immigration matter and that it was a “misconception” to suggest that he was being charged with war crimes.

Basso said he was confident his client would be exonerated because, although he made a misrepresentation in his first citizenship application, it was later modified to include Woewiyu’s participation in the Taylor regime.

Wright said the case is an immigration issue based on Woewiyu’s misrepresentations and non-disclosures under oath regarding his background.

“For instance, one of the requirements was that he names all the organizations that he’s been in, political organizations, and he did not report that he was a member of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia,” Wright said.

Wright said Woewiyu also checked “No” when asked in his application whether he had ever advocated, either directly or indirectly, the overthrow of a government by force or violence.

“Another question was whether he had either directly or indirectly persecuted any group for a number of reasons, including political opinion and social affiliation and he said “No” to that.

Of course, the grand jury determined that he was the minister of defense for the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. There was a question with regards to persecution of groups that supported President (Samuel) Doe when Doe was in power in Liberia,” Wright said.

Woewiyu pleaded not guilty at his detention hearing to all counts against him, including perjury and four counts of fraudulent misrepresentation in immigration applications.