Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ex-leader of Liberia charged with stealing $1.3 million

Source: CNN.

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) -- The former president has been charged with stealing more than $1 million from Liberia's coffers while in office, government officials said Wednesday.

Gyude Bryant, who led the interim government from October 2003 until current President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took office in January 2006, had previously been accused of embezzlement in a report issued by the Economic Community of West African States.

Police had questioned Bryant in recent months as part of a wide anticorruption campaign, and government officials said they finally had enough information to issue charges.

"Mr. Bryant has been formally charged with theft of property," Information Minister Laurence Bropleh said, adding the figure of $1.3 million "could go higher."

Bryant took office as the country emerged from civil war and totalitarian rule by Charles Taylor, who fled into exile in Nigeria in August 2003 and is awaiting trial for war crimes in a U.N.-backed court for atrocities committed by his forces in neighboring Sierra Leone.

Liberia is still recovering from more than a decade of war and unrest, with limited electricity even in the capital, poor roads and wrecked industries. Sirleaf has spent much of her first year in office leading a crackdown on government corruption that Liberians have applauded.

Bryant declined to comment on the charges. One of his lawyers said they were awaiting the government's proof.

"If you make a charge, make sure you can support the charge," Samuel Clark said. "It is just not fair to make allegations when you have no proofs of those allegations."

Bryant had said earlier that he believed he would be protected by immunity given to sitting heads of state.

Bropleh said the former president would be held accountable.

"Unfortunately, when the action is criminal and you are former transitional head of state, you don't have that immunity. You have to account for your actions especially when it has to do with theft of government's resources," Bropleh said.

Bropleh said a court date has yet to be set for Bryant's case.

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