Banks to block Liberian president’s funds

Swiss authorities recently ordered a freeze on any bank accounts of Liberian President Charles Taylor, so war crimes prosecutors can search for possible illegal diamond profits linked to West Africa’s conflicts, The Associated Press reports.

Taylor has been indicted for war crimes by a U.N.-backed Sierra Leone court for his alleged role in backing rebels who committed atrocities during that country’s 1996-2001 civil war.

In return for helping the rebels, Taylor received uncut diamonds, the war crimes court told the Swiss Justice Ministry in its request for a freeze on Taylor’s assets.

“He is claimed to have invested the proceeds from the diamond sales in a number of countries, including Switzerland,” the ministry reportedly said, announcing its order for Swiss banks to freeze any accounts.

The Swiss ministry said there was no immediate indication from banks how much money might be involved.

The freeze also applies to accounts of Taylor’s relatives, “members of his regime and various business people and companies,” it reportedly said. The ministry said the court also asked for relevant Swiss bank records.

David Crane, the U.S. prosecutor for the court, reportedly welcomed the swift Swiss response to the court’s request. He said the cooperation would help “disentangle Taylor’s finances and identify the profits he reaped from his criminal activity.”

“The money may be evidence of the joint criminal enterprise that we allege Taylor, with several other indictees, conducted in Sierra Leone over a period of years,” Crane reportedly said.

Taylor is widely accused by the United Nations, rights groups and others of enriching himself off illegal gun and diamond trafficking in the region.

He also is alleged to be reaping much of the profits from timber sales in Liberia, which has West Africa’s last rain forests.

The ministry said it had ordered the freezing of the accounts as a precaution and that the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office would take over the case following a formal preliminary examination.