Monrovia — A prosecution witness has been caught impersonating before the Finnish Appeals Court during his testimony against Gibril Massaquoi, an ex-commander with Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front, RUF.
Believed to be "Soldier 12," who, at a hearing in Monrovia, testified before the Tampere District Court, which subsequently acquitted Massaquoi in April 2021 of charges of aggravated war crimes and aggravated crimes against humanity, prosecutors called him to solidify their argument that the court wrongly acquitted Massaquoi of his charges.
But it seems that his testimony did more harm than good for them.
"I won't lie, it's not me there," the witness told the three-judge panel who had discovered his impersonation. The judges had suspended the hearings to watch a video of the testimony of the original Soldier 12 to the district court.
"But I was here, too. My name is CQ (actual name withheld to protect him from reprisal). Maybe you people have put a different person's face to my name."
The name on the ID card he had with him also did not match the name he claimed to be his.
"This ID here is a political ID card," he said when asked about it. "I had to change my name and use my country name on this ID card because the people did not want Muslims."
Before the break, he had insisted he was Solider 12.
The motive behind of the witness's impersonation remains unknown. Legal analysts say it could raise questions about how the prosecutors (the same team involved with the trial in the district court) could not have known that he was not the one who testified before the court in 2021. It remains to be seen whether the man's testimony could call the testimonies of other prosecution witnesses into question. Before Monday's incident, prosecutors looked to be proceeding well, with many of their witnesses accusing Massaquoi of violating rules of the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, where he was a "protected witness" and coming to Liberia to fight during the country's second civil war between 2001-2003. Some even accused him of ordering rapes and murders, including burning civilians alive in buildings. Many of the prosecution witnesses also claimed he was "Angel Gabriel" the name he allegedly used, while committing his atrocious acts.
Before the incident, Monday's controversial witness, who claimed to have been a member of a "Special Task Force Unit" of when Charles Taylor became President in 1997, said he was assigned in Lofa County and saw RUF fighters controlling the border towns, including Foya, Menikonah, Salama and Vahun.
He named the RUF commanders as Sam Bockarie, alias "General Mosquito," Superman and Mark, whom he alleged committed so many atrocities, including killing two former Liberian army soldiers, their wives, and children.
"In my presence, what I saw him (Mark)," said the witness. He claimed he lodged Mark's complaint to "my commander and they took him from among us."
He dd not however say whether Missisquoi was in Lofa at the time of the alleged acts.
But "Soldier 37," Monday's first witness said he was quite certain that Gibril Massaquoi was in Liberia in 2001 and 2022.
"It was either at the end or in the middle of 2001," said Soldier 37. "But I'm sure it was 2001/2002 when the RUF fighters came to Liberia. I know because they [Charles Taylor] sent the convoy for them."
The witness told the court that he got to know Massaquoi in Lofa when the RUF soldiers entered Liberia.
He said prior to the arrival of the RUF soldiers, they, the Liberian soldiers, in Lofa had been informed that some fighters were coming from Sierra Leone to help them. He said at the time, the war was intensifying in the county.
Soldier 37 told the court that the got know Massaquoi in Kamatahun, where he alleged Massaquoi gave orders to his fellow RUF soldiers to kill civilians in the town. Their corpses were burned in a building, according to him. He, however, could not tell the court whether the alleged killings took place in the building, or the bodies were moved to the building before they were set ablaze.
He explained that the Liberian soldiers present at the time were angry that Liberian civilians were had been massacred on Massaquoi's instructions, alleged acts he claimed sparked a tension between government forces and RUF fighters who were in their mist.
"Other soldiers wanted to kill him after he ordered the killing of civilians in Kamatahun," said Soldier 37. "The information reached "50" (Benjamin Yeaten, a top Taylor general), so, he was ordered to report to headquarters in Vahun. If he was going to sleep there, there was going to be a clash that night."
Soldier 37 said Massaquoi entered Liberia through Lofa with other RUF fighters, including Bockarie and Superman. He said described Massaquoi as the educated man amongst them. The witness alleged Massaquoi often did not go on the battlefront but gave orders to the fighters.
The coverage of the appeal of Massaquoi's acquittal is a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.
Lennart Dodoo, With New Narratives