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Pat Robertson's Gold

By Colbert I. King

Saturday, September 22, 2001; Page A29 washingtonpost.com

Last week's terrorist attacks brought out the worst in televangelists Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Three days after hijacked jetliners slammed into the Pentagon, the World Trade Center and the Pennsylvania countryside, Robertson posted a statement on his Christian Broadcast Network (CBN) Web site announcing that pornography, rampant secularism, the occult, abortion, the absence of prayer in schools and insults of God "at the highest level of our government" had sent the Almighty over the edge. America was attacked, Robertson asserted, "because God Almighty is lifting His protection from us."

Appearing on CBN's "700 Club" the day before Robertson's blast, Falwell had also cut loose.

Falwell (who you may recall feared that Tinky Winky the Teletubby was gay and out to damage the moral lives of children) singled out homosexuals, supporters of abortion rights, pagans, the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way as groups to blame for the Tuesday massacres. But a day later and facing a firestorm of criticism, Falwell backtracked. Labeling his own comments "insensitive, uncalled for at the time, and unnecessary as part of the comment on this destruction," Falwell said he blamed no one but the hijackers and terrorists for what happened. Robertson, who had joined Falwell's blame game during the show, ("Jerry, that's my feeling") cut and ran when it hit the fan. "Severe and harsh in tone" was how Robertson characterized pal Falwell's remarks in a later press release. "Totally inappropriate," he later said during a Fox News appearance.

Well, the Rev. Falwell has advanced to the rear, so let's let him be for the moment. Robertson, however, is another matter. He still thinks God removed His protection from the nation, thus allowing our enemies to give us what we deserve. What's more, to hear Robertson tell it, one of the abominations prompting God to hide his face from America is this country's self-indulgence, pursuit of financial gain and focus on wealth.

Which is the subject of today's column, and the basis for this humble question: What, pray tell, does the Good Lord make of Pat Robertson's gold-mining venture in Liberia with Charles Taylor, international pariah and one of the most ruthless, greedy and terror-producing heads of state in all of sub-Saharan Africa?

What? He didn't know?

Well it probably slipped Robertson's mind, busy as he is in getting people to send in those checks, money orders and love offerings to support his cause. How the reverend found time to hook up with Taylor, I'll never know.

But in May 1999, Robertson, through Freedom Gold Limited, an offshore company registered in the Cayman Islands but based at CBN headquarters in Virginia Beach, signed an agreement with Taylor and key cabinet members allowing the for-profit Freedom Gold to explore and receive mining rights in southeastern Liberia, where gold is believed to be in the ground.

It's a great deal for Liberia, which is now an economic basket case thanks to the long civil war and Taylor's corruption. It's also good for Freedom Gold, which was formed by Robertson in 1998. Liberia -- and for all practical purposes we're talking Taylor -- gains 10 percent ownership of Freedom Gold.

As The Post's Douglas Farah reported in January, huge amounts of the country's funds have been siphoned off by a small group of Taylor's associates and relatives. Taylor "has his hand in everything and gets a cut of everything," a businessman told The Post. Other Liberians, probably Taylor's gang, are entitled to buy at least 15 percent of Freedom Gold's shares after the exploration period.

In a phone interview on Wednesday, Joe Mathews, Freedom Gold's vice president for finance and administration ("actually I'm acting as managing director," he confided), said the company is currently in the exploration stage but "there is little activity at the moment because it's monsoon season."

He said gold has been found, but whether it is a viable venture has not been determined. Mathews confirmed reports that Freedom Gold is committed to spend $15 million during the exploration phase, but he said it has yet to spend anything close to that amount. The deal with Liberia gives Freedom Gold exploration rights for five years, and an additional "20 years to mine it," Mathews said. Liberia is currently collecting exploration and rental fees from Freedom Gold; the government also will pocket royalties and rental fees once production gets underway.

Yesterday Fisher also faxed a letter stating that the company has shown it is "a responsible corporate citizen." He cited company-built wells and pumps for safe drinking water, a free medical clinic that serves 1,000 patients a month from surrounding villages and the construction of roads and bridges to reach the area. "Freedom Gold has done more for the people in this region in the last two years than any other company over the last thirty years," he said, adding that the company intends to contribute even more.

Taylor needs the cash. His country is in ruins, though he and Madam Jewel Howard Taylor live well, thanks to sales of Liberia's precious resources and concession fees from foreign investors such as Freedom Gold.

Monrovia, the country's capital, is the pits: sporadic running water and electricity, hungry and malnourished children. And the countryside, where illiteracy is up to 70 percent and fighting still rages, is worse off.

The United Nations finally got its back up. Fed up with Taylor's complicity in helping rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone market diamonds to finance terror against their government, the U.N. Security Council slapped sanctions on Liberia: no international sale of diamonds; an embargo on foreign travel by senior Taylor officials. The United States has imposed economic sanctions, too.

And why not?

The U.S.-educated but Libya- trained Taylor is a menace to all that's decent. Ironically, it was Christmas Eve 1989 -- (get that Mr. Robertson) -- when warlord Taylor and his band of rebels launched their bloody invasion of Liberia. They took on a despot in then-president and former sergeant Samuel Doe. But Taylor's crowd turned out to be no better.

Twelve years later, with tens of thousands of Liberians slain, hundreds of thousands displaced throughout West Africa, a generation of young Liberian boys ruined by their conversion to child soldiers, women raped and mutilated, his country is in absolute ruins and is ostracized by the world community -- except for hustlers, mercenaries and the preacher/entrepreneur from Virginia Beach. Taylor presides over a near corpse.

Finding himself in the tightest of spots, Taylor the Intimidator weighed in this week on America's side in the fight against terrorism. But his real hope lies with deep-pocketed foreigners and their unquenchable thirst for a buck.

What a marriage. Can't you see it now? Robertson, fresh from his latest condemnation of sin, prediction of world collapse and visions of Liberian gold, sports his best "aw, shucks" smile, throws his arm around a grateful President Taylor -- who ought to be standing before a war crimes tribunal -- and coos: "C'mon, Charlie, what's a little human rights between friends?"

e-mail: kingc@washpost.com

2001 The Washington Post Company

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