THE former president of Liberia and convicted war criminal Charles Taylor and his wife, Victoria Addison-Taylor, claim they are owed a pension of more than $200,000 earned during the nine years since he stepped down from power.
The amount is equivalent to half of what the current President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is paid, plus personal staff and facilities worth $25,000 a year for the rest of Taylor's life.
In May last year, a UN-backed court sentenced him to 50 years in prison on 11 counts of war crimes in which he aided and abetted Sierra Leone's rebels during the 1991-2002 civil war.
''President Taylor, now in detention in The Hague, has a huge family back home and, by law, he is entitled to his retirement benefits to support his wife and family,'' said Sayma Srenius Cephus, a lawyer at Kemp & Associates in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, who is representing Taylor, the first African head of state to be convicted of crimes against humanity.
''At the moment, Mrs Taylor is struggling with 12 little children in the home of the former Liberian president and life there is precarious and absolutely condescending and unsuitable for the family of a former constitutional president of our country,'' the lawyer said.
Liberian law provides that former presidents and vice-presidents who are ''honourably retired'' and no longer employed by the government are entitled to special pension allowances.
Liberians are divided about whether Taylor should qualify for the benefit. ''Everybody is talking about this. Opinions are very divided,'' said Wade Williams, a journalist at the Liberian newspaper FrontPage Africa.
Former president Samuel Doe, who seized power in Liberia in a bloody 1980 military coup and was tortured and killed by rebels a decade later, was awarded his retirement benefits, paid posthumously to his wife, Nancy.
But the Liberian government denies it has any duty to provide the same benefits for Taylor.
''It was out of goodwill that Samuel Doe's wife received support,'' said a Liberian government adviser, who asked not to be named. ''That does not mean that there is an obligation to provide the funds in Taylor's case.'' GUARDIAN