Liberia: Ecobank Seeks Separate Trial in US$5M Theft Claim

Ecobank Liberia, one of the two commercial banking institutions, that are due to shortly go on trial with several current and past government officials, including the Secretary of the Liberian Senate, Nanborlor Singbeh, is seeking a separate trial from Criminal Court ‘C’. 

The co-defendant bank's request comes ahead of their scheduled trial which is expected to take place during the ongoing February 2022 Term of Court. Initially, Judge Ciapha Carey granted a request from the co-defendant bank not to post a criminal appearance bond, due to its huge investment, for which the bank cannot escape the bailiwick of the country while answering to the multiple criminal charges.

The bank is charged with economic sabotage, theft of property, criminal conspiracy and forgery .

Others indicted alongside the Ecobank are the Afriland First Bank; Nanborlor Singbeh, secretary of the Liberian Senate; George W. Wisner, former executive director/acting chairman of the National Investment Commission ( NIC); Othello Z. B. Karr, Incentive officer, NIC; Karel Socher, a Czech Republic national, and general manager, the MHM Eko Liberia, a Czech Republic owned mining company; Ales Sramek, a Czech Republic national, and staff of the MHM Eko Liberia; Sherman Logan, a Liberian businessman; Deddeh Singbeh, the wife of the Senate Secretary and employee of the General Auditing Commission (GAC); among others.

The Court record states that between June 2013, up to and including July 2019, Singbeh deceived his Czech Republic investors, Martin Miloschewsky and Pavel Miloschewsky, to transfer US$2.5 million through Ecobank for the establishment of the MHM Eko Liberia, a rock quarry company in Liberia, which money was allegedly received and the company was never established.

According to the court records, the co-defendant bank, got involved with the transaction, when it allegedly misled the Czech investors, to open a bogus corporate accounts, in the name of MHM Eko Liberia, where the US$2.5 million was transferred, and with the helped of the bank management, was withdrawn, when the codefendant bank allegedly ignored its own procedure for opening a foreign owned company’s corporate account.

Also, the court records alleged that US$102,000 was transferred to the Afriland First Bank, with the remaining of the US$5 million converted into mining equipment and machines that were shipped through the Freeport of Monrovia and received by Singbeh, who holds 30% share in the company, and yet to account for it.

However, the codefendant bank’s motion for severance and separate trial, told the court that all of its records showed that the requirements for opening of a corporate account were followed by the corporation (Bank).

“The indictment makes no allegations that the bank did not follow the procedure but alleges that the signature specimens presented by the corporation were forged by co-defendant, Nanborlor Singbeh. There is no evidence in support of such allegation to say the least,” the co-defendant bank argued in its motion.

The bank further argued that nowhere in the indictment, out of which the motion grows, is it mentioned that any of the other defendants named the bank to have participated in any act of economic sabotage, theft of property, forgery and criminal conspiracy as charged in the indictment.

“So, the co-defendant bank is entitled to be severed and tried separately from the other defendants named in the indictment, subject to this motion for severance and separate trial, as a matter of law, and to enable it exonerate itself from the charges,” the defendant bank added.

However, the state lawyers have not given any formal response to the co-defendant bank’s motion. By law, the state has a period of 10days to respond.

The prosecution has repeatedly claimed that the co-defendant bank did not follow its own procedure when the alleged bogus account was opened there. They claimed that some of the requirements for a foreign-owned company and investors to open a corporate account, the foreign investor must have first applied for the Ecobank business account, and be made to submit identification documents; like international passport, national ID, proof of residence, personal photo and certificate of residence.

But, according to the state lawyers, information from the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS), showed that two of the signatories to the account, Karel Socher, a Czech Republic national and general manager of the MHM Eko Liberia, and Ales Sramek, also the Czech Republic national, did not have any residency in the country.

The LIS letter dated May 31, 2019, as a response to the prosecution, May 20, 2019 request of Socher’s and Sramek’s residency in the country, and signed by Moses K. Yebleh, Acting Commission-General. 

The LIS letter in the possession of the Daily Observer states: “We present our compliments. Through this medium, we wish to reference your communication dated May 20, 2019, wherein you are seeking an inquiry from the LIS on the entries and residential status of four foreign nationals in Liberia and are claiming to perform some of your client.”

Accordingly, the letter said, “search done by the LIS revealed that the individuals concerned have not entered the Republic of Liberia, and there is no record of their residency in the country.”

Following the state’s response to the motion, Judge Ciapha Carey will have to entertain an argument between the parties, the codefendant bank, and the state lawyers to make a determination whether to grant the severance or not.