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Pat Robertson strikes gold deal with Liberian dictator


WASHINGTON, DC, June 3 � Liberian President Charles Taylor is known for many things: accused embezzler, jail escapee, human rights abuser and rebel leader responsible for starting a bloody civil war. Taylor can now add a new title to his resume: Pat Robertson business partner.

According to a report published yesterday in The Virginian Pilot, the TV preacher reached a deal with Taylor that allows a Robertson-owned company, Freedom Gold Ltd., to mine for gold in the Bukon Jedeh region of Liberia. The company, which lists Robertson as its president and sole director, was reportedly formed offshore in the Cayman Islands last December.

"Clearly, Robertson's greed knows no bounds," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Religious Right watchdog group. "This gold-mining deal with a vicious tyrant is shocking even by his standards.

"If there's profit to be made, it seems Robertson doesn't care who he has to deal with," Lynn added. "Despite all the rhetoric and grandstanding, this deal shows Robertson is more interested in money than morality."

The Virginian Pilot story reports that Taylor fled to the United States in 1983 after allegedly stealing $1 million from the Liberian government. After being arrested by U.S. officials, he escaped from a Massachusetts jail in 1985. Four years later, backed by armed rebels, Taylor began a civil war in which half of Liberia's 3 million people were killed or displaced.

Human rights observers have reported extensively on the appalling atrocities that took place during the seven years of fighting, including the killing, torture and forced labor of Liberian civilians. The Virginian Pilot reported one incident in which Taylor critic Samuel Dokie, his wife and two others were killed after being taken into custody by members of Taylor's special security bodyguards.

Two weeks ago, Taylor temporarily removed virtually his entire Cabinet and several heads of public corporations after these employees failed to attend a prayer service ordered by Taylor. "Any government official who does not know God will not serve in my government," the Virginian Pilot quoted Taylor as saying.

According to the Norfolk newspaper, the new financial deal will need ratification from the Liberian legislature. If it passes, the country's government will receive a 10 percent equity interest in Robertson's gold-mining company. After an exploration period, 15 percent of shares in the company will be available to Liberian investors.       

Robertson's interest in African mining is not new. In the early 1990s, another African dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, gave Robertson diamond-mining rights in Congo (a country then known as Zaire). That enterprise ultimately led to a Virginia state investigation when two pilots reported that Robertson relief planes intended for humanitarian purposes were actually used to transport equipment for the diamond-mining operation. The results of that investigation are still pending.

Robertson, who heads the Christian Coalition and serves as president of the Christian Broadcasting Network, is claiming the gold-mining deal is intended to benefit the Liberian economy.

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