Liberia: Cummings Trial: Prosecution or Persecution — Unraveling Cherie’s Edict

Alexander Benedict Cummings: "The elections in 2023 will define our country for generations to come."

Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author and not necessarily of the Daily Observer.

John H. T. Stewart

The Queen’s Edict has now been published and Presto, “Political Wife” Cherie Blair nee Teresa Cara Booth, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has declared Alternative National Congress(ANC) leader Alexander Cummings innocent of the criminal charges brought against him by All Liberian Party (ALP) leader Benoni Urey.

To the best of public knowledge, there is no evidence anywhere or precedent in Liberian case law to suggest that by the stroke of a pen a powerful individual from anywhere can dismiss the merits of ongoing criminal litigation declaring an individual inculpable well before the trial has ended.

The question is, other than a mere PR stunt, what purpose, legal or otherwise, is served by the findings of Cherie Blair’s outfit? Besides her qualification as a  lawyer, her occupation according to Celeb Networth is “Political Wife”.

Before her coming to Liberian, hardly anyone in Liberia, save a few, knew anything about “Political Wife” Cherie Blair so it became a duty to delve into her background with the view to provide some information to the Liberian public about Cherie Blair and her activities.

According to Celeb Net, “Cherie Blair was born in Bury, Greater Manchester, England, UK on Thursday, September 23, 1954 (Baby Boomers Generation). 

‘She is 67 years old and is a Libra. Theresa Cara Blair, CBE, QC is a British barrister. She is married to the former prime minister, Tony Blair. She was referenced in “Decision Points”, George W. Bush’s autobiography.

‘She graduated at the top of her law class at the London School of Economics. Cherie Blair attended London School of Economics. Cherie Blair is a member of Richest Celebrities and Political Wives’.

She claims to be a feminist and women rights activities. However, according to the UK Daily Telegraph, in 2016, she was paid an amount of 30,000 British pounds to appear at a women’s seminar in Toronto, Canada, promoted by a convicted fraudster.

Prior to the event in Toronto, she had been hoping to make up to 250,000 British pounds by representing a construction firm at Court hearings in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

But according to the Telegraph, “Cherie Blair suffered a humiliating defeat in her bid to appear in a 9.5 million British pounds court case in Malaysia”. 

The Judge threw out her application for permission to represent the construction firm arguing that she had no particular expertise on the issues to be tried.

Moreover, for the hearing of her application to the Malaysian Bar, the Judge, Wan Afrah Wan Ibrahim determined/awarded costs against her which was at the time expected to be as high as 10,000 British pounds.

In the case at bar involving Cummings, it remains unclear whether she has or did file an application for admission to the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA). 

In any case, according to the LNBA, only individuals holding Liberian citizenship can qualify for admission to the Bar. Thus it remains doubtful whether she would have been qualified to practice law in Liberia even if she did apply for admission.

Probably, smarting from her humiliating experience in Malaysia, Cherie may have elected, perhaps cleverly so, to avoid taking such a route and has instead chosen to issue an edict declaring Cummings inculpable, hoping that such would have sufficed to dismiss criminal charges against her client.

Going back to the Daily Telegraph story, a few days prior to the 2016 Kuala Lumpur hearing, Cherie Blair’s law firm had appeared confident she would have won the approval of the Malaysian court to be the star lawyer at a hearing which centered on allegations of “judicial bias”.

But, according to the Telegraph, the judge, Wan Afrah Wan Ibrahim, declared: "There is no evidence before me that she has appeared and argued before the court in the United Kingdom or anywhere else on the issue of judicial bias."

Here is how the Daily Telegraph put it at the time: “The news will come as a blow to Mrs Blair, who needs to maximise her earnings to keep up mortgage payments of £16,000 per month on four properties which are mortgaged for a total of £4 million”.

Even members of the British Parliament had expressed opposition to Cherie Blair’s misadventure, if one would call it that. They accused her of acting like a “colonialist” by acting in ways that suggested she could do a better job than lawyers in Malaysia.

And the reason for their ire was evident in view of the outcry over the estimated 10,000 British pounds cost to the British taxpayer for protecting Cherie Blair for a two-day stint in Malaysia. 

Similarly placed was the Malaysian Bar Association which expressed vehement opposition to her application to practice law in Malaysia. 

Additionally the opposing lawyers pointed out that the case against her client would have relied mostly on Indian case law on which most of Malaysia’s laws are based and that she had no experience of Indian law.

In a related development, an article in “The Daily Mail Online written by reporters GORDON RAYNER and RICHARD SHEARS wrote: “Mrs Blair's apparent eagerness to take on the lucrative case made a mockery of her insistence in a BBC World Service interview last week that she works on the 'cab rank' rule of cases being assigned to whichever barrister is available at the time. She and her husband have monthly mortgage repayments of £16,000 on their four properties”.

In similar stance at the time, David Davies, Conservative MP for Monmouth, said: “This is clearly another example of her cashing in on the fact that she is an internationally famous person by virtue of her marriage to the Prime Minister”.

Adding his voice to the outcry, Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker said: “It's clear that Cherie Blair is being sought for her name rather than her expertise, and it seems only fair that if she makes vast amounts of money out of this then she should foot the bill for her security out of her own pocket”.

Coming back to the Cummings trial, once again the question is just what does Cherie Blair hope to accomplish. Sources suggest that her legal fees run as high as US$300,000 which according to analysts indicates the significant depth of Cummings’ pockets.

But apparently having been forewarned that she is not eligible to practice law before Liberian courts, Cherie has resorted to issuing an edict declaring the Cummings trial as politically motivated.

On close scrutiny of her report, there is no mention anywhere in that report suggesting she met or sent queries to the National Elections Commission (NEC) who is indeed a key player in this ongoing saga.

As mentioned in Part I of this article, the NEC contrary to procedure had received into its custody an original official party document that had not been notarized. It was withdrawn and resubmitted 4 days later fully notarized which has since raised claims of tampering and forgery.

Did Cherie Blair in her investigation take into account statements by former NEC Commissioners, James Fromayan and Jonathan Weedor, that submission to NEC of un-notarized official documents is completely out of regular and accepted practice and procedure? 

Further, did she take into account the fact that NEC has the duty and obligation to ensure that all Original Documents submitted to it should be subject to rigid scrutiny to ensure that they are compliant with all requirements and that failure to do so compromised its integrity?

Did Cherie Blair’s report take into account also the fact that NEC’s failure to adhere to its own rules of procedure raised questions of impropriety, which more likely than not lent strong credence to Urey’s accusations of fraud and forgery?

She mentioned Daniel Naatehn in her report but nowhere in her report is there any indication that the Framework document which should have been submitted to NEC by Cummings, the then Chairperson of the CPP, but was instead submitted by Daniel Naatehn who lacked legal standing to do so.  

According to Cllr. Orishall Gould, representing Cummings, it was indeed within the pale of the law to have withdrawn the documents to have them regularized and returned later.

However, according to Urey, neither he, Boakai nor Karnga Lawrence were duly informed of that development nor were they aware of amendments made on the documents before resubmission to NEC, although Cummings has since insisted that such amendments did not accrue to his person any undue benefits.

As mentioned in Part I of this article, state prosecutors have assembled an array of 33 witnesses to buttress his case. So far, not more than five witnesses have been put on the witness stand.

It is not known at this point just how many rebuttal witnesses Mr. Cummings has arrayed. It is suggested in some quarters that the closest Cherie Blair can get to the court is in the capacity as a rebuttal witness. 

On the stand she will of course be subject to rigid cross-examination where her findings will be subject to rigid and intrusive scrutiny that is if the Court will accept her findings as part of Court records.

At this stage, Cherie has not, to the best of public knowledge made any deposition averring as fact the findings of her report. 

What is being speculated is that like Cummings, Urey may also hire the services of a “Political Wife” to conduct an investigation just as “Political  Wife” Cherie has done for Cummings.

One cannot also rule out the possibility of Boakai and Karnga Lawrence hiring the services of “Political Wife” or wives to conduct a similar investigation intended to support claims that the Framework document was tampered with.

Cherie Blair’s findings will of course have no legal effect on the ongoing trial, according to a retired lawyer. Her investigation and findings have not been accepted as part of court records.

Neither does she have any legal authority to absolve Cummings of culpability as is being widely reported in local media circles. 

Similarly placed, according to legal experts, would be the investigation and findings of any would-be hired political wife or husband acting on behalf of either Urey, Boakai or Karnga Lawrence.

From all indications, the ongoing criminal trial will go on to its logical conclusion which may not be anytime soon.  It may indeed require a considerable length of time before Cherie will be able to appear as a rebuttal witness.

Any hopes she may have entertained of practicing law before Liberian Courts should have by now been extinguished in her breast.

And it is clear she is likely to go laughing all the way to the bank after her short stint in Liberia, leaving Mr. Cummings to face the music. Unpleasant listening or awkward dancing it promises to be?

The author John Stewart is a Liberian journalist, and Former Commissioner of the defunct Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia, which was charged with the mandate to "promote national peace, security, unity and reconciliation" by investigating more than 20 years of civil conflict in the country and to report on gross human rights violations that occurred in Liberia between January 1979 and 14 October 2003.