The Monrovia City Court has granted Alexander Cummings, who is being tried by the state for forgery and criminal conspiracy, three weeks of absence as requested by his lawyers.
In granting the request, Stipendiary Magistrate Jomah Jallah disclosed that the absence of Cummings will not affect the trial as it will continue in the defendant's absence for a period of three weeks — a decision which prosecutors objected to, demanding that Cummings be present at every stage of the case.
The three weeks, according to Magistrate Jallah, will commence from May 20, the precise date that Benoni Urey is expected to take the witness stand to testify about his accusation against Cummings as it relates to the alleged tampering of the framework document of the Collaborating Political Parties.
Magistrate Jallah’s decision means Cummings, who is the political leader of the Alternative National Congress, will not be in Court to hear his main accuser, Urey, whose complaint formed the basis of the trial.
The request by Cummings’ lawyers was made at the start of the testimonies of former Vice President Joseph Boakai, political leader of the Unity Party (UP), another ‘former member’ of the CPP, who concluded his testimonies as a subpoena witness on Thursday, May 19.
Boakai’s testimony came as a result of subpoenas from the Monrovia City Court, which compel him to appear and testify, to his knowledge, whether the CPP framework document was altered by Cummings and his co-defendants as alleged by Urey.
Cummings, along with his party Chairman, Senator Daniel Naatehn of Gbarpolu County, and the party’s Secretary-General Aloysius Toe, are on trial for alleged forgery and criminal conspiracy, having been accused by Benoni Urey of the All Liberia Party (ALP) of having allegedly altered the framework document of the Collaborating Political Parties — an accusation the defendants have denied.
Urey is claiming that it was under the rotational chairmanship of Cummings, when the CPP framework document was allegedly altered.
The former VP, throughout his testimony, had consistently maintained that he was not aware about the insertion of the controversial ‘exit clause’ in the framework document of the CPP, a clause Urey claims was inserted by Cummings.
“I carefully and properly read the framework document, and there was no exit clause, but it was the lawyers who made the amendment to the document that the lawyers used the word ‘exit’. That was not in the original copy of the document,” Boakai testified, while responding to concerns raised by the defense team on April 18.
Boakai explained that their lawyers did amend the framework document and included recommendations which, according to him, were discussed by the CPP’s four political leaders and, after the discussion, the document was onward submitted to the validation committee, then chaired by Counselor Lafayette O. Gould of the ANC. “Since then, I never saw that document again,” Boakai said.
“The document defined how the collaboration should work, and all of that was included in the document sent to Gould,” Boakai said in response to a question from the defendants' lawyer about how the withdrawal clause entered into the framework document. “Gould is now on the defense team of Cummings, and knows where all of those exit clauses were placed.”
The UP leader maintains that after the lawyers’ review and presentation to the four parties leader, he never saw the document again after it was submitted to the validation committee.
The withdrawal clause, which Boakai has testified about, has been used by the National Elections Commission to bar the Unity Party and All Liberian party from contesting next year's election as well as postponed Lofa County Senatorial by election.
The clause issue, which is now before the Supreme Court, comes after UP and ALP took an exception to the electoral body ruling in response to a complaint filed by the Alternative National Congress (ANC) and Musa Bility’s faction of the Liberty Party (LP), asking the electoral body to invoke Section 8.5 (2) of the CPP framework document as a means of rejecting and denying “any application from the ALP and UP to field candidates in their names in any election until the expiry of the 2023 elections, including up to six (6) months thereafter, same being the agreed contractual life of the CPP.”
Boakai, also on April 16 testified that he did not receive a copy of the framework document that was submitted to the NEC by Cummings, who was then serving as chair of the collaboration.
The former Vice President informed the Court that while they as leaders of the CPP asked a team of lawyers to review, revise, and amend the framework document as a result of controversy over some content, he never received the return copy of the document as instructed.
Meanwhile, Magistrate Jallah has also granted Senator Daniel Naatehn’s request for a leave of absence ‘for health reasons. However, the Senator's request takes effect at the end of May and, unlike his political leader Cummings, the Senator will be in court to listen to Urey's testimonies.