MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Charles Taylor may be locked up while appealing his 50-year prison sentence for war crimes, but the former Liberian president still wants his impoverished country to pay his pension.
The 64-year-old who was once one of West Africa's most powerful figures has written Liberia's Senate seeking at least $25,000 per year in retirement pay he insists he's owed under the constitution. "Sadly, I am without notice as to why finance ministers of the republic have failed and/or refused to comply with the laws of the land as regards my annuities," Taylor wrote.
The former strongman, whom even prosecutors have called smart and charismatic, ran Liberia from 1997 to 2003. As his government fought a two-front rebellion that year, he stepped down and fled to Nigeria under international pressure. Three years later, Taylor was finally arrested and sent to the Netherlands.
Last year, Taylor was convicted at The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentenced to 50 years behind bars for arming and supporting murderous rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone's civil war, which ended in 2002. He has appealed the conviction; oral arguments in the appeal are to take place Tuesday and Wednesday.
In his three-page letter to the Senate, which at the time smacked of legalese, Taylor chastised Liberia's government for "mammoth injustice" for allegedly failing to uphold its responsibilities and "a blatant disregard for the laws of our land" by not paying his pension.
He also wrote that he had been denied access to Liberian diplomatic and consular services, and sought diplomatic housing and passports for his wife, Victoria, and two daughters. The letter was read in the Senate this week and is to be discussed again on Tuesday.
Liberia's constitution states "a former president who has honorably retired to private life" and is no longer employed in government is to receive an annual pension equal to half of the incumbent president's salary.
Taylor's private villa in the outskirts of Monrovia is decrepit; his once prestigious mansion in his hometown of Arthington, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) to the west, is in ruins and swallowed up under grass.
At Villa Yassah Zoe, his palace in the Congo Town suburbs of Monrovia, Taylor's wife greeted an Associated Press reporter but deferred all comment to Henry Brown, who introduced himself as "acting chief-of-staff" at the palace — which is still adorned with wood-carved seals of Liberia.
Aside from his role in Sierra Leone's bloodshed, Taylor is also seen by many as the chief architect of Liberia's back-to-back civil wars from 1989 to 2003 that killed an estimated 250,000 people, displaced millions, and devastated the economy. Various estimates put gross domestic product per capita at less than $400 per year in 2011.
Some believe Taylor is a millionaire. Asked why he was seeking the benefits from one of the world's poorest countries, Brown cited principle — and noted but denied the claims that Taylor had squirreled away millions.
"Mr. Taylor has always been a law-abiding citizen of this country, and this is the law. What is going on now is not a matter of like and dislike; it is a matter of the law being enforced," he said.