Judgment day for Liberia's warlord

Nine years after his war crimes indictment, Charles Taylor is finally facing a verdict. Daniel Howden visits his mansion in Monrovia – and meets the wife he left behind


The final judgment on Charles Taylor will come in a sterile courtroom in the Netherlands, far from the tropical forests and humid cities where blood was spilt in his play for power in West Africa. Prosecutors have portrayed him as the warlord most responsible for the limbless veterans known as "shortsleeves" on the streets of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown and the countless other victims of a maelstrom of atrocities in the region's civil wars during the 1990s.

Tomorrow's verdict will be heralded either as a milestone for international justice or its most damaging defeat. The pronouncement may even disturb the gilded life of a one-time supermodel who was forced to testify at his marathon trial.

Among the great and good who would celebrate Taylor being found guilty will be many who were once seduced by his unusual charisma. They might be embarrassed to know that their tributes, signed photographs and gifts to a guerrilla leader who terrorised and captivated Liberia still decorate White Flower, Taylor's modernist mansion on the outskirts of the capital, Monrovia.

Six years on from his arrest it's a mouldering heap, where his young wife Victoria and their daughter, conceived during a conjugal visit to the Netherlands, wait for him to come home.

Sitting in the courtyard with its poor copy of Rome's Trevi Fountain and a collection of rusting sports cars, she maintains that her husband has been the victim of a deep conspiracy.

"He's not what the international community demonised him to be," she says of someone charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and the recruitment of child soldiers.

Propped up on an armchair with the stuffing falling out, serving tea in chipped cups, she talks of "big hands behind the [court] case". She blames the United States and the UN for transforming her man into the "demon" whose minions cut babies from their mothers' wombs, according to evidence given at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. There is a real sense of betrayal among Taylor's inner-circle who believe that a man whom the US admitted last year was on its payroll with the CIA has been made a scapegoat.

The former president is in "high spirits", according to his wife, who says he's absorbed in the detail of his own trial, the last case remaining for the Sierra Leone tribunal. She speaks of the six years of hearings, as though he were away at university, insisting that he has used the time to study law and manage his defence. If that effort and any subsequent appeal fails he will serve his sentence at a prison in the UK.

As always with the showman Taylor there have been surprises. There was the arrival of Charlize, his third daughter, conceived during one of the conjugal visits. And the former lay preacher's abrupt conversion to Judaism.

Vicky, as she prefers to be called, speaks of her husband with a girlish pride as a "family man" who has been "misunderstood". As for his new faith "he told me that ever since he was a little boy he had questions about God".

"Since he got to The Hague he found a Rabbi and he has found the answers."

She is less forthcoming about his missing fortune – said by prosecutors to run to billions of dollars – amassed while looting the forests of Liberia and the diamond fields of Sierra Leone and Guinea. These were the "dirty little pebbles" that model Naomi Campbell said she received from Taylor's aides after a charity dinner attended by actress Mia Farrow and Nelson Mandela in 1997.

In the dock, the defendant has gamely insisted that he's penniless, forcing the ICC to cover his defence costs which ran to $100,000 a month. Yet reports at the time of his arrest, while trying to escape Nigeria, had him fleeing in a luxury car stuffed with cash. His wife snorts at stories of Jaguars and stolen fortunes.

"They say he stole $3bn. Where is that $3bn?" Vicky says gesturing around the decaying White Flower.

Indeed, the grand residence, built in four steps down the side of a hill in the once upscale neighbourhood of Congo Town, has seen better days. Dead birds and palm fronds compost in the drained swimming pool and stray dogs wander across the wrecked courts where tennis enthusiast Taylor used to play.

The inside has fared a little better and the chapel on the ground floor has Jewish Menorah candlesticks in homage to his new religion. The house's bric-a-brac of politics and high living is at odds with her claim that he wants to return to Liberia to be a farmer.

The often bizarre and contradictory path of Taylor's life is mapped out across the dusty reception room at his former residence. Kofi Annan smiles from a signed portrait stacked on the floor with similar keepsakes, a copper plaque commemorates a "peace award" given to him by the regional power bloc ECOWAS. Bearing down on the room's white and gold French furniture is an oil painting depicting a serene Charles rising through clouds towards a smiling Christ. Among the family portraits lies a well-thumbed copy of the book Israel at 50.

The name of the home where she keeps vigil comes from the war years when the then-rebel commander would name all his camps White Flower to symbolise his purity. It was all part of the relentless self- mythologising that means Taylor still divides Liberians. Vicky says that Liberia hasn't fallen out of love with the man who won the post-war election in 1997 with the slogan: "He killed my ma, he killed my pa but I'm gonna vote for him".

His ex-wife Jewel Taylor is an elected senator and fiery critic of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize largely on the strength of Liberia's recovery after Taylor was forced into exile.

The Taylor family reserves a special ire for Ma Ellen as she's known to Liberians: "She's not a mother, she's a monster," says Vicky. "Every war that was fought in this country she had a hand in. If you can give her a Nobel Peace Prize then you can give one to Prince Johnson [the warlord who killed the late Liberian President Samuel Doe]."

No court verdict can settle all the arguments over what went on in West Africa's civil wars but it will go some way to deciding whether there's an unlikely homecoming to Monrovia or if a small corner of a British jail is about to be rechristened White Flower.

people'It can last and it's terrifying'
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Life and Style
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Systems Administrator (SharePoint) - Central London - £36,500

£35000 - £36500 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator (SharePoint) -...

Biology Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently recruiting...

.NET Developer / Web Developer / Software Developer - £37,000

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Biology Teacher

Main Pay Scale : Randstad Education Leeds: Biology Teacher to A Level - Female...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering