Finland jails Sierra Leone man in Liberia war crimes case

A Finnish court has jailed in a custody hearing a 50-year-old Sierra Leone man suspected of committing serious war crimes and crimes against humanity from 1999 through 2003 during Liberia’s bloody second civil war. 

The man is suspected of several murders, gross human rights abuses in exceptional circumstances, aggravated war crimes and an aggravated rape, said the Pirkanmaa District Court during Thursday’s hearing in the southern city of Tampere.

The man wasn’t publicly named but the Finnish newspaper Iltalehti, citing court documents, identified him as Gibril Ealoghima Massaquoi, a citizen of Liberia’s neighbor Sierra Leone who had lived in Finland for more than 10 years.

Official charges against Massaquol need to be filed by the end of January 2021, the Finnish court said.

Massaquoi was arrested on Tuesday by Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation, or NBI, in his hometown of Tampere, a key Finnish industrial and university town, where according to Iltalehti he has a regular job and a family with children. 

Aamulehti, another Finnish newspaper, said Massaquoi had lived “a modest life” in a dire financial situation in Tampere over the past years but stressed the African “wasn’t hiding.” It wasn’t immediately clear how he ended up living in the Nordic nation of 5.5 million.

Finnish police first became aware of accusations against Massaquoi in 2018 through information provided by an unnamed Finnish non-governmental organization, Thomas Elfgren, NBI inspector in charge of the case, told the Finnish news agency STT. 

The court charges claimed the suspect had held a leading position in the Revolutionary United Front, a rebel army in Sierra Leone which was involved in the Liberian civil war. 

Following a preliminary investigation, the Prosecutor General _ Finland’s supreme prosecution official _ issued an order to proceed with Massaquoi’s case, Elfgren said. 

He said a team of Finnish police investigators have visited Liberia on several occasions since early 2019 to hear dozens of witnesses in cooperation with Liberian authorities in the complex criminal case.

Massaquoi is the first non-Liberian to be held accountable in connection with the African nation’s brutal first and second civil wars that are estimated to killed at least 500,000 people.