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Banks freeze Liberian leader's assets

Liberian president Charles Taylor is accused of crimes against humanity

(Keystone)

Switzerland has ordered banks to freeze any accounts belonging to Liberia's president, Charles Taylor, and his associates.

The decision follows a request from a United Nations war crimes court in Sierra Leone.

The court accuses Taylor of crimes against humanity during the civil war in Sierra Leone between 1996 and 2001.

Earlier this year the British-based non-governmental organisation, Global Witness, published a report claiming that Swiss bank accounts were being used to hide funds embezzled by Taylor.

Global Witness said Liberian assets in Swiss banks totalled at least $3.8 billion (SFr5.06 billion).

Diamonds

Some of that money may have come from the sale of diamonds, according to the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Taylor is accused of funding rebel groups and aiding them in their attacks on the civilian population during the civil war in Sierra Leone.

In return, Taylor is said to have received uncut diamonds, which he then sold, investing the proceeds into a number of countries, including Switzerland.

David Crane, the United States prosecutor for the court, welcomed the speedy response by the Swiss authorities.

"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 added that the freezing of assets would help "disentangle Taylor's finances and identify profits from his criminal activities".

Taylor's relatives

The Swiss justice ministry said in a statement on Monday that the measures also applied to Taylor's relatives and "members of his regime and various business people and companies".

The ministry said the banks yet to report the exact amount of assets belonging to Taylor.

It added that the Federal Prosecutor's Office would take over the case following a preliminary investigation.

Global Witness demanded the blocking of bank accounts belonging to Taylor and his associates earlier this year, submitting a request to the Federal Banking Commission.

"President Charles Taylor admitted a few months ago that he is using timber funds to purchase weapons, and a lot of the timber funds go into various bank accounts... one being Switzerland," said Alice Blondel, spokeswoman for Global Witness.

Tanja Kocher, a spokeswoman for the banking commission, told swissinfo that every bank receiving money from Liberia had to check its provenance and destination.

She said the allegations by Global Witness were being taken seriously and would be investigated further.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Swiss banks are freezing any accounts belonging to the Liberian president and his associates.

A UN war crimes court in Sierra Leone requested the accounts blocked.

Taylor is accused of crimes against humanity during the civil war in Sierra Leone between 1996 and 2001. He is accused of funding rebel groups during the war.

He is said to have received diamonds in return, the proceeds of which he invested into a number of countries, including Switzerland.

A British-based non-governmental organisation published a report claiming that Swiss bank accounts were being used to hide funds embezzled by Taylor.

Global Witness said Liberian assets in Swiss banks totalled at least $3.8 billion (SFr5.06 billion).

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