The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, who arrested Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu last week described the former Liberian Minister of National Defense a ‘flight risk,’ meaning he would escape to Liberia if the bail was accepted.
This latest development followed a decision by a U.S. judge to deny him (Woewiyu) bail. This also means that Woewiyu will remain in detention until a new motion is file by a reputable lawyer on his behalf; but no date was set for any motion, this paper has learnt.
The former spokesman of the disbanded rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) was arrested last week at Newark Airport upon his return from Liberia.
He was subsequently charged with ‘perjury’—lying on his citizenship application by failing to disclose his alleged affiliation with a “violent political group in Liberia” during the height of the country’s civil crisis, which lasted over a decade.
Woewiyu served as Defense Minister in Charles Taylor’s former rebel NPFL, during Liberia’s civil war.
Upon his arrest, his immigration lawyer, Raymond Basso, said his client amended his citizenship application to include his participation in the Taylor regime. But Linwood C. Wright, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Philadelphia, said Judge Judith Faith Angell denied bail, “because she believed Woewiyu might try to leave (runaway) from the U.S. should he be bailed.
“There was a detention hearing and Woewiyu was ordered detained by a U.S. Magistrate. The magistrate found that he (Woewiyu) was a ‘flight risk,’ and so she ordered him detained pending his trial,” Wright said.
Raymond Basso, Woewiyu’s immigration lawyer, told VOA last week the case against his client was purely an immigration matter, and that it was a “misconception” (mistaken belief) to suggest that he was being charged with war crimes.
Basso said he was confident his client would be exonerated because, although he made a misrepresentation in his first citizenship application, it was later modified to include Woewiyu’s participation in the Taylor regime.
Wright said the case is an immigration issue based on Woewiyu’s misrepresentations and non-disclosures under oath regarding his background.
“For instance, one of the requirements was that he names all the organizations that he’s been in, political organizations, and he did not report that he was a member of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia,” Wright said.
According to him, Woewiyu also checked “No” when asked in his application whether he had ever advocated, either directly or indirectly, the overthrow of a government by force or violence.
“Another question was whether he had either directly or indirectly persecuted any group for a number of reasons, including political opinion and social affiliation and he said “No” to that.
Of course, the grand jury determined that he was the minister of defense for the NPFL. There was a question with regards to persecution of groups that supported former President (Samuel) Doe when Doe was in power in Liberia,” Wright said.
Woewiyu pleaded not guilty at his detention hearing to all counts against him, including perjury and four counts of fraudulent misrepresentation in immigration applications.
As the case stands, a barrister in Liberia has told the Daily Observer that Woewiyu would eventually be charged with ‘war crimes’ and be prosecuted accordingly.