Court Orders GTBank to Pay US$1M, LD$13M to Charles Sirleaf

   


Judge  Eva Mappy-Morgan has ordered the Guaranty Trust Bank (GTBank) to pay a son of former President Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf over US$1 million and L$13 million to satisfy the court judgment.


Judge Morgan who presides over the Commercial Court as a chief judge ruled that the fact that Charles Sirleaf's lawyers were able to establish the prime fasci of the case,  the court, therefore, holds the bank liable for the illegal withdrawal of funds from Sirleaf’s account.


Charles Sirleaf is the former Deputy Governor for Operations of the Central Bank of Liberia.  He was indicted by the government of Liberia in 2019 for playing a role in the excess printing of the monies but was later cleared by the Court.


The case against the Bank centered on the withdrawal of  US$886,580 and L$10 million from the Sirleaf account at the bank illegally. 


But the Commercial Court via three-judge panels, ordered the Bank to pay US$1 million and L$13 million as punitive and general damages, within 60 days, which is the life expectancy of an appeal.

And while the Bank has announced an appeal to the Supreme Court, the lower court has maintained that an appeal is only possible once the payments are made.

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The payment, according to Judge Morgan, should be placed in an escrow account to be monitored by the court.

In this case, the Supreme Court can only rule on a legal technicality, rather than its merit. If it is found in favor of the bank, the case returns to the Commercial Court, with this decision, the money has to be paid first before the bank can proceed with any other legal steps.

The bank, however, hopes to see the charges thrown out by the Supreme Court, particularly the alleged illegal withdrawal from a customer’s account, because of the potential reputational damage to the entity. 

Judge Morgan made the order on December 21, after she and her two colleagues listened to arguments and submissions of both counsels in the suit, according to the ruling.  

Accordingly, the legal team for Sirleaf established a prima  facie case, meaning that their defense to the matter is sufficient evidence that justifies this verdict in his favor, Judge Morgan further ruled.

“The Bank is ordered to pay the over the United States one million dollars and the Liberian dollars LD$13million as both punitive and general damages, into an escrow account,” Judge Morgan ruled, with a caveat to the bank that, the bank is to restitute the amount illegally withdrawn from the account, as well as the portion of the above-mentioned amount in damages amount of the damages, before appealing against the judgment before the Supreme Court.

Case history

It all started when Mr. Sirleaf complained to the police that two employees, including defendants Andrea Doubah and Genesis David, of the bank, allegedly withdrew over LD$10 million-plus US$886,580 from the salary and savings accounts.

Andrea Doubah and Genesis David were later charged with theft of property, forgery, and aiding consummation of crime and criminal conspiracy, specifically for Andrea; and criminal conspiracy and criminal facilitation, for David. Though they were a corporate office performing the responsibility of the bank, because of that, the case went to the Commercial Court, rather than the criminal court, which was a commercial case with the bank.

Mr. Sirleaf claims that the signature used on the alleged forged withdrawal slips and on the check to get the alleged amount out of his accounts was completely different from the genuine signature he lodged with Guaranty Trust Bank (GT Bank).

Sirleaf alleges that from the date defendant Andrea Doubah became his account officer, she filled in all withdrawal slips and checks and she signed them, alleging that he did not sign the forged withdrawal slips bearing the name Charles E. Sirleaf and the counter check was not signed by him and his wife.

In Mr. Charles Sirleaf's case, investigators say defendant Andrea Doubah was assigned by GT Bank management as account officer to Charles Sirleaf's accounts, as well as the account to which Sirleaf and his wife are signatories.

As for Genesis David, he worked with GT Bank as head of operations at the bank's head office in Sinkor, a suburb of Monrovia.

According to police, Mr. Sirleaf's lawyer, Cllr. J. Johnny Momoh, alleges that in 2017, 2018, and 2019, several unauthorized withdrawals were made from his client's account totaling LD$10,480,000 and US$886,580.

These monies, according to the complaint, were allegedly withdrawn from Mr. Sirleaf's savings and salary accounts and a single USD withdrawal from a joint checking account titled “Bojelene Guest House Incorporated,” operated by Mr. Sirleaf and his wife Fanta Donzo Sirleaf as signatories.

During the investigation, police indicated that defendant Andrea Doubah explained that on 13 January 2016 she reactivated Mr. Sirleaf's savings USD account and also encouraged him to open an LRD account, which he did.

Police say Andrea allegedly stated that she deposited and withdrew cash from Mr. Sirleaf’s account, based on his orders, using his Identification Card because he is considered a High Net-worth Individual (HNI) as per the bank’s alleged policy.

Further, police say Andrea told the investigation that she never signed any of Mr. Sirleaf's withdrawal slips, and that Mr. Sirleaf's emissaries or representatives never signed for the cash she turned over to them on his behalf.

According to Andrea, Mr. Sirleaf's wife, Mrs. FantanDonzoSirleaf is one of the persons to whom she (Andrea) turned over cash that was withdrawn from Mr. Sirleaf's account based on an alleged instruction from the complainant.

She claims that it was Mr. Sirleaf who would call her whenever he sent people to conduct transactions on his account and that these conversations took place on different platforms such as voice calls, SMS, and WhatsApp, among others.

As for defendant Genesis David, police say he informed the investigation that he approved all the slips that were used as source documents to allow withdrawals from Mr. Sirleaf's accounts executed at GT Bank, Sinkor.

Police say Mrs. Fanta Donzo Sirleaf explained that she filled in a withdrawal slip authorizing US$90,000 from her account and later deposited it into her brother Boimah Konah’s account, having heard that the government had decided to freeze her husband Charles' accounts in reference to alleged missing Liberian dollars.

She says the idea came based on Andrea's advice that she should withdraw her cash and take it home to avoid it being seized by the government.

In July 2019, Fanta says she instructed her brother to withdraw US$40,000 from his account and the withdrawal slip was allegedly delivered to Andrea, who executed the withdrawal, adding that she (Mrs. Sirleaf) received the US$40,000 through Genesis David while US$50,000 remained in her brother's account.

Mrs. Sirleaf says she and her brother did not transact any business within their respective accounts until 26 May 2020 when they withdrew all of their monies, both LRD and USD.

In reference to the Bojelene Guest House account, Fanta Sirleaf says she was only a signatory, noting that on 31 October 2019, she and her husband Mr. Sirleaf wrote a GT Bank check leaf, authorizing US$88,000 withdrawal from the Bojelene Guest House account.

She continues that the check was given to Andrea, but Andrea did not present it to the bank and did they (Sirleafs) receive the cash from Andrea.

According to her, Fanta Sirleaf says she was only a signatory, noting that on 31 October 2019, she and her husband, Mr. Sirleaf, wrote a GT Bank check leaf, authorizing US$88,000 withdrawal from the Bojelene Guest House account.

She continues that the check was given to Andrea, but Andrea did not present it to the bank, and did they (Sirleafs) receive the cash from Andrea.

According to her, when the issue was raised with the bank, management provided a counter check dated 29/9/2019 as proof of an US$88,000 withdrawal from Bojelene Guest House. Mrs. Fanta Sirleaf denies an allegation that she received US$100,000 on 4 March 2020. By Winston W. Parley.