Trial Of Former Liberian Dictator Puts Spotlight On TV Preacher Robertson

Television preacher Pat Robertson received some unwanted attention recently when one of his old business partners, former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, went on trial for war crimes.

Taylor, who is being tried at the Hague in the Netherlands, had a checkered career as leader of the west African nation from 1997-2003. During that time, he crossed paths with a variety of figures from business and entertainment in the United States. Model Naomi Campbell and actress Mia Farrow were called to testify about their dealings with Taylor, but Robertson was not.

Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network and a top leader of the Religious Right, was spared from testifying even though he may have some important information to reveal about the brutal dictator. The two have had longstanding business dealings.

In May 1999, the TV preacher reached a deal with Taylor that allowed a Robertson-owned company, Freedom Gold Ltd, to mine for gold in the Bukon Jedeh region of Liberia.

The relationship raised red flags. Over the years, Colbert I. King, a writer with The Washington Post, penned several columns blasting Robertson’s partnership with Taylor.

Robertson’s deal with Taylor called for 10 percent of the profits of Freedom Gold to go to Liberia, not including royalties and rental fees the Taylor regime would earn if the mines became productive.

Robertson insisted that the money was going to the country, not Taylor personally, but King remained unpersuaded, noting that Liberia had been described as “Charles Taylor Inc.”

Under Taylor’s regime, Liberia was racked by civil war, the nation was desperately poor and the country came close to anarchy. Thousands were killed and tortured by Taylor’s troops, police and security forces, and the ruthless dictator was accused of backing rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone, spawning more death and destruction there.

Robertson has claimed his involvement with Taylor was minimal, stating that he has never even met the man. Yet as King pointed out in one of his columns, the TV preacher never met Taylor because he had been warned by State Department officials not to travel to Liberia.

According to Voice of America, Taylor was so confident in his relationship with Robertson that he once claimed he could count on getting the U.S. government’s support through the influential religious broadcaster.

And Robertson did prove his loyalty. In 2003, Robertson repeatedly criticized the Bush administration over its handling of the crisis in Liberia, using his “700 Club” broadcast to charge that the U.S. government was seeking to destabilize the nation and oust Taylor.

Americans United Senior Policy Analyst Rob Boston, who authored a book about Robertson in 1996, told Voice of America that the TV evangelist should have been called to testify.

“Pat Robertson claimed, for example, that he never met Charles Taylor,” Boston said. “He claimed that his dealings were with the country of Liberia, not with Charles Taylor, but a lot of critics believed that really those two were synonymous and anything you did with Liberia, you were doing directly with Charles Taylor. It would have been interesting to shed a little light on that arrangement that those two had and see exactly what was going on there.”