By Tarty Teh
Here is a paragraph from the Liberian newspaper called The New National: ''The Government of Liberia says it has uncovered an "international conspiracy" linking Liberia to diamond smuggling and gun running. The government, through the Minister of Justice, Cllr. Eddington Varmah, said at a news conference last Friday [June 30, 2000] that several individuals have been arrested in connection with the conspiracy.'' - The New National newspaper, July 3-5, 2000.
At first reading, I thought ''conspiracy'' was what linked Liberia to diamond smuggling. In that case the ''conspiracy'' would have been to link Liberia to something that the country claims it has nothing to do with. Since the Taylor government has developed some capacity for hosting criminals, one would not expect it to indulge in the self-abnegation that would permit the other meaning implicit in the paragraph from the Liberian paper. The meaning would be an admission that the government has finally found out what the world has been complaining about, namely, Liberia is the conduit for Sierra Leonean diamonds bound for the world market through illegal mining and shipment.
But what the Liberian government is saying becomes clearer as you read on, especially in light of the action it has taken. The Liberian Justice Minister Eddington Varmah said, at that June 30, 2000, news conference, that ''several individuals have been arrested in connection with the conspiracy.'' Now, that's not a direct quotation from the government. It's the newspaper paraphrasing the Liberian Minister of Justice who, according to the paper, read from a prepared text.
These distinctions are important especially in light of what I believe is a stunt that the Taylor government is trying to pull. I do not think that the Taylor government has yet withdrawn its claim that the ''internationally community'' is scheming to ensure its failure. I thought the government had already failed, but here we may be talking about degrees.
And here is a critical piece. The Taylor government has apprehended a Charles Beckley in connection with the ''international conspiracy.'' And it looks like Mr. Backley did not operate alone. Though the government acknowledges arresting other suspects, it would seem that Mr. Beckley is the main suspect because he played the part of the president in the illegal diamond trade apparently not by appearance but by voice only. Mr. Beckley was able to sell nearly $300,000,000 worth of diamonds through Liberia to the world market using the tricks of pretending to be Charles Taylor. That's what the Taylor government has now uncovered.
The direct reference to President Taylor is found in the following paragraph: ''Minister Varmah, reading a press statement, revealed that the suspects have been impersonating as the Liberian leader and top officials of government through telephone calls while carrying out the diamond smuggling and gun running to fuel the Sierra Leonean crisis.'' The Taylor government's discovery is almost identical to the charges Britain has been pressing against Charles Taylor regarding the war in Sierra Leone. But who is the Taylor government trying to fool?
Here is the tricky part. Although the paper did not directly quote the Liberian Minister of Justice, if the paper's rendering of the Justice Minister's statement is fair, then there is room to infer that the impersonation is believed to have occurred in exactly two forms: Impersonating ''as the Liberian leader,'' and impersonating ''top officials of [the] government through telephone calls while carrying out the diamond smuggling and gun running to fuel the Sierra Leonean crisis.''
In other words, the crooks would each specialize in, say, sounding like President Charles Taylor - which is what is meant by ''the Liberian leader.'' Whoever sounded more convincingly like President Taylor would play Taylor on the phone. Others would perhaps mimic, say, Blamoh Nelson, Milton Teahjay, Emmanuel Shaw, etc. Well, they don't call it conspiracy for nothing. But why and how would Taylor's name resonate with the diamond industry - legal and otherwise - to turn it into a sale booster?
By all indications, this is a big operation. And so you would have thought that such large volume of cash movement would be done through a system that would transfer cash with roughly the same volume and continuity of a conveyor belt. Nope. Western Union will do just fine, as reported by the Liberian paper: ''He [Minister of Justice] said the government has also discovered that the [other] suspects have been receiving huge sums of money from Mr. Beckley through the Western Union to carry out the acts.''
For those who may not be familiar with the Western Union, it is an outfit that was established mainly for the purpose of rushing cash to stranded relatives. For instance you'd pay $15 to send $50. It is not an economical way of sending money, and certainly it was not designed for volume transmission. On top of that, when you send money by Western Union, the receiving person must produce identification papers in addition to a control number that you are required to send independently to the receiver. Western Union takes mostly cash. And since crooked money is mostly carried in suitcases, Western Union would do no more for a crook than call attention to his operation.
If sending this much money by wire was working, then why did Mr. Beckley have to enter Liberia? And now that the Taylor government has picked him up, there is no indication that Beckley was allowed to call his lawyer. I am sure he could afford one. Charles Taylor had a lawyer named Ramsey Clark (who happened to be a formal U.S. Attorney-General) when Taylor was picked up by the Plymouth, Massachusetts, authorities. A call for Taylor's arrest in 1983 had come from the government of President Samuel Doe who accused Taylor of doing pretty much the same thing his government has now accused Mr. Beckley of doing stealing. But the question could very well be ''Does Mr. Beckley exist?'' And that's not being cynical, because Taylor, who has ''erased'' real people, may yet create both crime and victims to escape an encounter with lawful authorities.
But I think the Taylor government still missed its cue. President Taylor should have placed his first call to the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, following the ''security breakthrough'' with something like, ''Hi, Tony. This is Charlie. No. Charles Taylor at the Executive Mansion. No, not Bill's Mansion. That would be the White House. It's the other Mansion - Monrovia, Liberia. Yes, that's me. Anyway, I won't blame you if you refuse to forgive me. I blew it big time. But if it will be any consolation to you, I'll tell you that I too was victimized.
''Would you believe those crooks had the audacity to use my good name and voice to guarantee sale for the Sierra Leonean diamonds? They did. No wonder they were able to net $300 million worth of sale in just one year. What was that? O, you mean I should get to the point? Okay. The point. We have arrested the ringleader. This guy deserves no mercy. But horrendous as his crimes is, it will be unconscionable to disclose his nationality. What? No he's not British. Of course not. American? Well, you know what? He's not American either. Which reminds me, I need to call Bill.
''Tribunal? We have something better. It's called the Liberian judiciary. The elections? The free and fair elections of 1997? No, that was the Liberian people who spoke resoundingly when they elected me by a landslide. What? I thought we finished with the tribunal business. You want to try me? Before an international tribunal? I thought I cracked the international diamond-smuggling and gun-running ring. Remember, I also brokered the peace agreement for Sierra Leone. War crimes? The Liberian people rendered their verdict through their vote of confidence in my leadership when they resoundingly elected me their first president of the millennium. That thing was sealed when I was voted Father of the Millennium in your country, Great Britain, this very year.
''I believe in peace and stability for the sub-region, and I will do everything in my power to maintain the peace that I helped to broker in Sierra Leone. Hello, Mr. Prime Minister. Are you there?''
Next call. ''Hello, Bill, this is Charlie in the Mansion in Liberia. If I know what time it is? DA? District Attorney? Plymouth Rock? O, Plymouth, Massachusetts. But I have since been elected President of Liberia by a landslide because the people of Liberia believe in my leadership as their first president of the millennium to ensure peace and stability for the... Tarty Teh
For subscription information, go to: www.theperspective.org
or send e-mail to: email@example.com