Liberia: Defense, Prosecution Grill Credibility of Finnish Police Fixer in Appeals Hearings of Ex-RUF Commander, Massaquoi

Monrovia — Following Monday's mix-up, in which an individual impersonated as a witness before the Finnish Appeals Court hearing acquittal proceedings for Gibril Massaquoi, the Sierra Leonean man accused of serious human rights violations in Liberia,

a fixer that helped Finnish police gather evidence and find potential witnesses here, has taken the stand as a witness.

Code named "Employee 1" by the Court to protect him from reprisal, the witness, called by the prosecution, was grilled by both prosecution and defense lawyers for nearly eight hours over his credibility and methods of finding potential witnesses he recommended to Finnish police for questioning over Massaquoi's alleged atrocities in Liberia's second civil war.

A crime and human rights violation investigator, Employee 1 said in 2019, he was contacted by police from the Finnish Bureau of Investigation, through Liberian human rights organization, the Global Justice and Research Project to find victims and ex-fighters who were in certain locations in Monrovia and Lofa County. GJRP and Civitas Maxima jointly complained Massaquoi, a former Revolutionary United Front, RUF commander to Finnish prosecutors. The man said Finnish police officers gave him specific tasks.

"My first assignment, they (police) gave me a map," said Employee 1 on cross examination. "They said just ask if any houses got burned here, if RUF fighters were here - those kinds of questions," he said.

Employee 1 denied being part of the Finish Police investigation of the witnesses.

"My job was just to locate the witnesses and get their contacts and turn them over to the FBI [Finnish Bureau of Investigation]. Some of these witnesses, I never met them in person. The FBI called them directly."

His appearance was vital to proving the validity of witnesses, and to clear doubts of witness tampering and false testimonies, which dogged the trial in the District Court and were key in the Court's acquittal of Massaquoi in April 2022. Those concerns were fresh on the minds of parties to the case, as well as Judges of the Appeals Court, when the testimony of a man, claiming to be the prosecution witness, who testified to the District Court, backfired.

While acquitting Massaquoi, the District Court ruled that prosecutors didn't prove his charges "beyond a reasonable doubt."

The theory of the Defense's argument is that Massaquoi could not have been in Liberia during the times of his alleged crimes (July-August 2002-0203), because he was providing testimony to the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone.

The prosecution is appealing the verdict to the Turku Appeals Court, arguing that the District Court erred by its decision.

As they did to other witnesses, defense lawyers were keen to know from Employee 1 how the witnesses were contacted, and where they first heard Massaquoi's name. He said he was unaware because at no time did, he ever mention Massaquoi's name to any of the potential witnesses. He said the Finnish police never also told him that they were investigating Massaquoi.

"As a trained investigator, I believe in transparency," said Employee 1. "We have something called data rules. You don't alter your notes. You don't call names, and you don't show photos. I follow these rules," he said.

But he told prosecutors that he later got to know the name of the man at the heart of the investigations.

"I got to know that they were investigating Massaquoi during their [Finnish police] second visit here when we went to Kamatahun (in Lofa)," said Employee 1. "They were investigating, and we were sitting in the palava hut. The Finnish police only told me they were investigating the RUF. It was from the people they talked to that I got to know they were investigating Massaquoi."

When brought to his attention by the Defense lawyers that some witnesses had told the District Court that they first heard Massaquoi's name from him, he was dismissive.

"That's not true. Maybe, they heard it from other witnesses because sometimes witnesses are together and talk," he said. The witness said he was "under oath not to mention names."

Employee 1 was again asked by defense lawyers whether the witnesses had lied to the court, he responded, but he was not sure.

"I can't judge them, he said. "I can't say they're intentionally lying or they're just making a mistake."

Defense lawyers also became suspicious of his notepad, containing notes, names, and contacts of witnesses that he had recommended to the police to testify in the trial.

The lawyers believe those details suggest the witnesses may have been coached, so they misled the court, but Employee 1 insisted that the details were recorded for his personal use. He said he kept them after his job with Finnish police was done.

"Those are my personal notes," he said. "These notes and names you see here cannot be part of the investigation. Therefore, you cannot use it."

The hearings continue on Thursday.

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

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