Liberian dies of COVID-19 before sentencing, denying justice

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Liberian convicted of lying on his U.S. immigration forms about his ties to war criminals has died while awaiting sentencing.

Federal prosecutors said in a letter to witnesses that Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu, a former top lieutenant for Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, died Sunday in a hospital in the Philadelphia suburbs of COVID-19 complications, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Tuesday.

Woewiyu was convicted in 2018 of perjury, immigration fraud and other charges stemming from answers he gave on a 2006 application for citizenship, saying he never took part in the overthrow of a government.

Prosecutors said Woewiyu was part of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia, which sparked a multifaction tribal conflict and civil war. They said his roles were as onetime defense minister, spokesman and face of Taylor’s regime.

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Woewiyu’s attorneys said during the trial that the prosecutors had no jurisdiction to examine possible involvement in the West African nation’s civil wars or to make the trial about possible war crimes. The man, who had lived in the U.S for decades, had filled out the immigration forms to the best of his ability, the attorneys said.

Victims and survivors of the war, which left more than 200,000 civilians dead, had been eager for accountability because very few of the leaders in the decadelong conflict have faced any charges for atrocities including executions, sex slavery and conscription of child soldiers.

In 2008, Charles Taylor’s son was convicted in a federal court in Florida of torturing or ordering the torture of political opponents and was sentenced to 97 years in prison.

Taylor resigned as Liberia’s president in 2003 and is serving a 50-year prison sentence on a conviction he aided and abetted rebels who committed atrocities in neighboring Sierra Leone.

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