Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor, the Liberian warlord that made Sierra Leone a byword for a millennial heart of darkness, has just been found guilty in the Hague of multiple charges of crimes against humanity. He looks like a bank clerk and was once a Baptist lay-preacher. His killing squads’ speciality was the question ‘long sleeve or short sleeve?’ - before hacking off an arm above or below the elbow. I have one degree of separation from him.

  Charles Taylor

This was thirty years ago and I was working for a shipping company in Hong Kong. My boss was the Chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Ship Owners – and many of our ships were registered in Liberia. At the time, the President of Liberia was Master Sergeant Doe. He had gained power by shooting the entire previous government on a beach after disemboweling the president in his bed. He was visiting South Korea and announced that he was paying a visit to Hong Kong so, at very little notice, I was tasked with arranging a lunch for him and his entourage to be hosted by the Association of Ship Owners. The day arrived and at about midday word filtered back to me that he had not made the flight after a serious night’s partying in the red light district of Seoul. We cancelled the lunch and breathed a sigh of relief.

At about 4pm I received a panicky call from the manager of the hotel where the lunch was to have been. Doe and his entourage were in the foyer and were helping themselves to the contents of the shops and didn’t see any reason why they should pay. I got there to find a dozen policemen remonstrating with an irate Doe and his acolytes. His breath stank of drink and there was not much understanding between the broken English, not helped by alcohol, and the Cantonese of the police. I persuaded Doe to go to the bar and pacified the manager while getting him to check the status of Doe’s flight to wherever he was going next. Many bottles later – cheap at the price in the circumstances – we shoehorned the last of them into hired limos and passed on the problem to the unfortunate ground-staff at Kai Tak airport. Doe gave me a sweaty hug before he fell into his car.

Charles Taylor was a member of Doe’s government and was accused of embezzling over $1m and had to flee to America where he was imprisoned. He escaped and made it Libya where he became a protégé of Gaddafi who sponsored his return to Liberia as the head of the army that provoked a civil war. This culminated in the capture of Doe by one of Taylor’s renegade commanders, Prince Johnson who, on a video broadcast around the world, tortured Doe to death. The film showed Johnson sipping beer as Doe’s ear was cut off.


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