Liberia: Justice Minister Apologizes for ‘Contemptuous Comments’ Against Judiciary

Justice Minister Cllr.  Frank Musah Dean. 

The Minister of Justice, Cllr. Frank Musah Dean, has issued an apology to Judge Blamo Dixon of Criminal Court ‘C’ and the Supreme Court for a “controversial remark”  he made in the aftermath of the US$100M cocaine verdict.

The Minister -- following a nearly unanimous verdict of non-guilty for the four accused men, who were charged with smuggling the banned substance into the country -- accused the judiciary of being compromising and  referred to the acquittal as "appalling."

The accused individuals, Malam Conte, Adulai Djibril Djalo, Makki Ahmad Issam, and Oliver A. Zayzay, were charged by the government with shipping cocaine worth US$100 million into the country. They were investigated and charged with the commission of money laundering, unlicensed possession of controlled drugs, and unlicensed importation of controlled drugs. They were then sent to court for prosecution.

However, an empanelled jury acquitted the men, claiming that the accused had no knowledge of the cocaine smuggling operation, as claimed by the government. The jury also ordered that the US$200,000 seized from the men be returned.

An enraged Dean, who is also the dean of the Supreme Court Bar, then released a statement claiming that the verdict was shameful and undermined the country's effort to clamp down on the illegal transit of illicit drugs.

The acquittal, the Minister noted s lends credence to the widely held international and local perception that the judiciary is inherently compromised, and ignited the debate as to whether the judicial system should continue with the age-old jury-trial process, which has been susceptible to jury tampering.

“There was US$100 million worth of drugs stacked in a container that landed in Monrovia, and the accused were caught red-handed attempting to take ownership of the container holding the illicit drugs by attempting to bribe the businessman housing the container,” the Minister of Justice, Cllr. Frank Musah Dean, said in a release issued on  May 20.

“Yet the court, through the empaneled 12-man jury, said such brazen evidence did not warrant a guilty verdict. What more can the joint security and justice ministries do to convince the court that the law was broken,” the minister wondered.

The Ministry of Justice had bet on winning the case to boost the government's claims of fighting the widespread abuse of drugs in the country, but the loss dealt a blow to that narrative as many questioned the investigation that led to the accused being charged with numerous crimes, including the unlicensed importation of uncontrolled drugs.

However, the Minister was widely criticized for his outburst against the judiciary, and the Supreme Court subsequently cited him to explain his statement.  He however failed to show up on the first occasion, prompting the Supreme Court to hold him in contempt and fine him and other staff at the ministry US$500.

However, the Minister yesterday claimed that his statement was not intentional but came as a result of “he being shocked by the acquittal verdict." He then prayed to the Supreme Court to relieve him and other staff at the ministry of the contempt charge, but the Court reserved its decision on the matter.

Meanwhile, the Spokesperson of the Judiciary, Ambrose Nmah, had a month ago claimed that the Minister's allegation of jury tampering “was shocking,” as the prosecution at no point raised an issue or concern about the jury selection process.

According to Nmah, the Ministry lost the case as it was unable to prove that the accused were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which is their fault and not the judiciary's.

And Judge Blamo Dixon, who presided over the case about a week ago claimed that the Ministry of Justice lost the famous US$100 million cocaine case as a result of weak testimonies and documentary evidence.

It was his first remark on the case since the Minister of Justice described the acquittal of the four alleged high-profile drug smugglers as “appalling.

Dixon claimed that the government lost the case because it was unable to prove that the accused was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Of the 48 votes cast by the jurors, the Criminal Court C judge noted that the defendants Malam Conte, Adulai Djalo, Makki Issam, and Oliver Zayzay received 43 votes by the 12-man jury, while the Ministry got five, which he says indicates that the government evidence was not strong enough for a conviction.