A U.S. grand jury indicted an associate of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, accusing Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu of lying on an application for citizenship about his role in a brutal drive for control of the West African country in the early 1990s.
Woewiyu, 68, served with Taylor in a military organization that employed civilian executions, rape and torture, prosecutors in Philadelphia said. Woewiyu, a resident of Collingdale, Pennsylvania, didn’t disclose his association with the military group on his citizenship application, they said in a statement.
Woewiyu was arrested yesterday by U.S. Homeland Security agents at Newark International Airport in New Jersey. He was charged with perjury, fraudulently attempting to obtain citizenship, fraud in immigration documents and false statements. He faces as long as 110 years in prison plus a $4 million fine if he’s convicted.
Taylor is serving a 50-year sentence for crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone’s civil war in the 1990s. He is in a U.K. prison after being found guilty in 2012 on 11 counts including terrorism, murder and using child soldiers, by the Special Court of Sierra Leone in the Netherlands.
Woewiyu founded the National Patriotic Front of Liberia with Taylor and others in the late 1980s, according to a Jan. 30 indictment. He was appointed by Taylor to serve as the group’s minister of defense beginning in 1990.
The organization led a bloody war to overthrow the regime of President Samuel K. Doe. Woewiyu became minister of labor after Taylor was elected president in 1997, according to the indictment.
Woewiyu has had permanent legal resident status in the U.S. since 1972 and applied for citizenship in 2006. Prosecutors said he lied under oath to immigration officers about his history in Liberia.
Woewiyu at a hearing today was assigned a federal public defender to represent him on the criminal charge. He is scheduled to be arraigned May 16. Raymond Basso, a Philadelphia attorney who represented him in the citizenship proceedings, appeared with him today. Basso said in an interview later that U.S. officials were aware of Woewiyu’s role in Taylor’s government when he applied for naturalization.
Liberia, which was founded by freed slaves from the U.S., is still recovering from two civil wars between 1989 and 2003 in which about 250,000 people died and most of the West African country’s infrastructure was destroyed.
The country has received more than $16 billion in foreign investment in mining and large-scale plantations since former banker Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became Africa’s first elected female president in 2005.
The case is U.S. v. Woewiyu, 14-cr-00050, U.S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia).
To contact the reporter on this story: Sophia Pearson in federal court in Philadelphia at firstname.lastname@example.org.