The ongoing power theft case at Criminal Court ‘C’, involving one of the former security personnel of the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC), Victor Yowo, came to an abrupt end, on Tuesday, September 7, after one of Yowo’s lawyer, Counselor Arthur Johnson, relied on the judicial public health measures in response to the spread of the COVID-19, to indefinitely suspend the criminal proceedings.
The dramatic development took place as the prosecutors’ first witness was qualified by the court to begin her testimony in the matter.
The Justices, including Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, as part of their intervention in the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, instructed that, “The Supreme Court will concentrate more at this time on writing opinions in cases already heard, while it also mandates all Circuit judges to encourage party litigants to opt for bench trials instead of jury trials where possible.”
Bench trial is where the judge serves as both juror and the judge, meaning, that is the only person to hear and decide the case.
It was based on this, Cllr Johnson argued, that the Supreme Court mandated that judges opt party litigants for bench trial, but was not interested in any bench trial as requested by the justices. Instead, he was interested in a jury trial, as provided for in the 1986 Constitution.
Cllr. Johnson’s contention was triggered by the Supreme Court’s other mandate that says, “Where a party litigant insists on his/her/it’s right to trial by jury, the judge must suspend the hearing of said case until the health situation of the country is declared safe.”
It was in compliance with that mandate that Judge Ousmane Feika chose to suspend Yowo’s criminal proceedings pending the lifting of the COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the Supreme Court.
According to the prosecutors’ indictment, during the period of October 2020 on Pico Island, Yowo was caught with several electrical materials/items belonging to the Liberia Electricity Corporation in his possession. The materials included 25 meters of 4 electrical coil cables, transformers, breakers, Street light bulbs, Connectors, light pole climbers, and safety belts, among others.
It claims that defendant Yowo used the electrical materials to carry out illegal connections in the name of being an LEC worker and, out of deception, extorting money from people and converting the same to his personal use and benefit, with the sole intent to deprive the LEC and the Government of Liberia.
The proceedings also come following a stern warning by US Ambassador Michael McCarthy that the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) was losing millions of dollars to power theft, and that if such continues that the government fails to fight, Liberia will surely lose donors’ support.
In spite of Yovo’s case being tabled until further notice, there are reports of high-level government officials and business leaders who are also allegedly engaged in power theft. And while LEC compliance managers are able to easily nab those engaged in petty power theft, like Yovo, they avoid targeting the more powerful individuals who are engaged in the crime, for fear of possible reprisals.