When televangelist M. G. "Pat" Robertson tried to buy into a Scottish bank in 1999, a public outcry forced the bank to cancel the deal. Now Robertson is taking flak for another business deal. In 1998, Robertson formed a $15 million company, Freedom Gold Limited, to look for gold in Liberia. In 1999, the company signed an agreement with the government of Liberia to begin gold-mining operations.
Freedom Gold has not yet mined much of the precious metal, but it is already producing critical media attention for its founder and principal investor.
The first and loudest denunciations have come from The Washington Post. Colbert King, the Post's deputy editorial page editor, has published a series of articles excoriating Robertson for the deal, and especially for the involvement of Liberian President Charles Taylor. King noted that the agreement gives a 10 percent equity to the Liberian government.
In a letter to the editor, Robertson denied that the Liberian government owned part of the company. Robertson wrote that Freedom Gold has hired 130 Liberians "and is assisting Liberians in gaining a better life." In "Christian Liberia," he added, "Freedom Gold has found freedom of religion, freedom of movement, freedom of expression, and what appears to be a judiciary dedicated to the rule of law."
James Mathews, Freedom Gold's manager, says the company has built a free medical clinic serving 1,000 families.
King derided as "bunkum" Robertson's upbeat description of conditions in Liberia, and noted that the United Nations has placed an arms embargo on Liberia. King quoted a State Department official who said the U.S. government "has not encouraged either trade or investment in Liberia due to the absence of the rule of law and President Taylor's support for armed insurgencies."
Operation World estimates that 38 percent of Liberians are Christians. A civil war, lasting from 1989 to 1996, left the economy in shambles. The jobless rate is 95 percent.
The average annual income is $490. Taylor, who had set off the civil war in 1989, came to power by force in 1996. A suspect election confirmed his position in 1997.
The main insurgency Taylor has supported is in neighboring Sierra Leone, which has many productive diamond mines. Last spring, United Nations investigators accused Taylor of smuggling and selling these diamonds to buy weapons and enrich himself.
In a fax to Christianity Today, Mathews denounced King's charges as "unfounded nonsense." He said Robertson has helped organize a massive "Liberia for Jesus" rally this month.
"It is our understanding that the majority of people in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, are professing Christians," Mathews said. "At present, the churches are quite strong in that country, are crowded with people, and are growing rapidly."
Concerning reports of repeated human rights violations in Liberia, Mathews said he has taken 12 trips to Liberia since 1998. "At no time … during the past three years have we had any reason to confirm the reports," he said.
Mathews acknowledged that the Liberian government will receive 10 percent of Freedom Gold's stock when the company goes public.
Mathews said Freedom Gold probably would not generate much income before 2004. In the meantime, it seems to have hit a rich vein of controversy.
Copyright © 2002 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Also appearing on our site today:
Pat DownCan Robertson take any more PR hits?
Colbert King's Washington Post columns on Pat Robertson include:
Pat Robertson's Gold — (Sept. 22, 2001)
Pat Robertson: His Liberia Deal — (Oct. 20, 2001)
Death and Diamonds in Liberia— (Nov. 3, 2001)
Pat Robertson and His Business Buddies — (Nov.10, 2001)
Bunkum From Pat Robertson — (Dec. 1, 2001)
Pat Robertson's letter to the editor refuting the allegations made against him in The Washington Post is posted online at Robertson's official site.
An editorial by The Perspective (Smyrna, Georgia) said that Robertson's letter is "full of self-serving innuendoes." The paper reported on the allegations against Robertson and his gold-mining operations in December.
A former U.S. deputy chief of missions wrote to The Washington Post and said that Robertson's letter displayed "unimaginable naivete."
The U.S. State Department's most recent human rights report said that the Liberian "government's human rights record remained poor, and there were numerous, serious abuses in many areas."
Aficana.com has a brief biography of Liberian President Charles Taylor.
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