The Televangelist and the Warlord
Now that celebrity supermodel Naomi Campbell has become improbably entangled as a witness in the war crimes trial of deposed Liberian President Charles Taylor, it is bringing fresh light to Taylor's international connections. A warlord who ruled Liberia brutally for six years, Taylor allegedly fueled the atrocities in neighboring Sierra Leone and profited from "blood diamonds" there. Campbell was an unwilling witness called into court in The Hague, where she described receiving uncut diamonds she described as "dirty looking pebbles," evidently sent by Taylor.
But while Campbell may be famous and glamorous, the most prominent international figure to come into contact with President Taylor has been American M.G. "Pat" Robertson, the televangelist, entrepreneur, former Republican heavyweight and one time US presidential candidate.
Robertson used to mix his missionary work in Africa with efforts at developing mineral wealth. First he financed a diamond-mining venture in Zaire, and then he pushed for a gold mine in Liberia through a Cayman Islands company he owned called "Freedom Gold." That's when President Charles Taylor gave Robertson's company a gold-mining concession.
The televangelist's ties to Taylor have always been puzzling. Here, for the first time, is the actual "Mineral Development Agreement" both Robertson and Taylor signed on April 22, 1999. It is dull reading but on page 45 one can find their signatures: the American televangelist signed his name "MG Robertson" on a line under "President" of Freedom Gold and the alleged warlord scrawled his name under "President of the Republic of Liberia." Few people have ever seen this document. (I got it during a trip I took to Liberia back in 2001, when I co-wrote a story for GQ called "Pat Robertson's Gold Fever." That was when Taylor was still in power.)
The contract gives Robertson the right to mine gold in a southern site—and potentially make millions of dollars. And what did Robertson do to win the mining lease? It is unclear. What is true is that the evangelist used his TV pulpit on Taylor's behalf. Robertson turned out to be a vocal supporter of Taylor in the rather obscure debate over US foreign policy interests in Liberia. Taylor was a strange person to champion: he had been trained by Col. Muammar Gaddafi after escaping a US prison, and was known, worldwide, to be a dictator presiding over one of the poorest countries in the world. The United States was pushing economic sanctions and there was a UN arms embargo going back to 1992.
Taylor stepped down in 2003, and his trial at The Hague has been ongoing. He provided some insight earlier this year during his trial when he testified that he believed Robertson could push Washington to get on his side. He even said he believed Robertson had lobbied George Bush on his behalf.
Chris Roslan, a spokesman for Robertson, emailed The Nation this week that Robertson's vigorous defense of Liberia during Taylor's rule was not due to his winning a gold-mining contract. "There was no quid pro quo for the granting of the concession." He said Robertson hadn't met Taylor, and didn't have a personal relationship with him. And he said there was no lobbying of George Bush, pointing out that the Robertson/Taylor contract was signed while Bill Clinton was president.
The spokesman says Robertson defended Taylor's rule in Liberia not because of the gold mine but because the televangelist worried about the safety of Christians in Liberia. "During this time period, Guinea, a Muslim country, was ruled by a ruthless dictator and was being used as a staging area by Muslim rebels intent on taking over Liberia. With the Clinton administration placing economic sanctions on Liberia, there was a significant risk that the country would collapse and the Muslim rebels would have overrun the country, started a civil war and killed many Christians."