Liberia: Justice Ministry Suffers Setbacks in Cummings Trial

The Magistrate presiding over the trial of Alexander Cummings and two other opposition politicians has denied a request by the Ministry of Justice to subpoena Meta, the parent company of Whatsapp, and a bill of information from the government, which seeks Cummings’ Liberian passport with an American visa in it. 

Cummings, the political leader of the Alternative National Congress, the party's National Chairman, Senator Daniel Naatehn, and Secretary-General Cllr. Aloysius Toe is facing trial for forgery and criminal conspiracy for alleged alteration of the CPP framework document.

The state, led by the Solicitor General, Cllr. Syrenius Cephus, had in the past argued that the Whatsapp subpoena request is for the platform’s parent company, Meta, formerly Facebook, to come to Liberia and testify about the conversation that took place on the social media platform. 

The exchanges in question are among the host of documentary evidence the prosecution is relying on for the prosecution of Cummings and co-defendants. 

But Magistrate Jomah Jallah of the Monrovia City Court disagreed with Cllr. Cephus and his team of prosecutors — ruled that the request to subpoena WhatsApp (Meta) is impossible because the company is out of the bailiwick of Liberia. 

“As such, the court cannot issue the subpoena for the company to come to Liberia to produce the original copy of the exchanges between Cummings and the executive members of the CPP," Jallah said. 

Before Magistrate Jallah's ruling, Cllr. Cephus had claimed that the government was not able to obtain the social media conversations between Cummings and other executive members of the then CPP, particularly those between July 2 and July 19, 2020, at which time the defendants allegedly altered the CPP framework document.

Cllr. Cephus added that since he could not locate the documents, it was necessary by the law to request the service provider — WhatsApp — to appear and testify and produce the controversial document that formed the basis of the Cummings trial.

However, Cllr. Cephus’ subpoena request came after Attorney Adolphus Karnuah, a member of the prosecution team, had earlier admitted that they omitted several portions of the social media exchanges, which Magistrate Jallah had confirmed as prosecutors' shreds of evidence in the case. 

Atty. Karnuah's confession happened when lawyers representing Cummings accused the Solicitor General of extracting from his evidence the exchanges of social media messages between Cummings and other leaders of the CPP in the National Advisory Council chatroom.

Also, Magistrate Jallah has rejected the prosecutor's bill of information to compel Cummings to produce his current Liberian passport with an American Visa inside, to prove that he complied with the mandate of Roosevelt Willie, the Resident Judge of the Criminal Court' A', who approved the defendant’s recent visit to the US.

The bill of information, filed on April 4, requested the defendant's lawyers to provide, in addition to Cummings travel information, his passport with an American visa to prove that he traveled to the United States and returned to Liberia before or on March 25, 2022. 

Magistrate Jallah, in his ruling on the matter, noted that the issue is above his court’s jurisdiction and that he could not render any decisions — implying that the prosecutors’ request was filed to the wrong Court.

Magistrate  Jallah, however, did not mention the name of the court that had the jurisdiction to hear such a request.

Cummings, who is the political leader of the opposition Alternative National Congress, is being prosecuted by the Ministry of Justice along with two of his party’s ranking officials — Senator Daniel Naatehn, Chairman of the party, and Atty. Alloysius Toe, Secretary-General, for allegedly tampering with the Collaborating Political Parties’ framework documents when Cummings served as its chairman in 2021.

The government’s prosecution is based on a complaint from Benoni Urey, whose All Liberian Party, was the first to withdraw from the CPP. 

ANC authorities have vehemently rejected and denied the charges as bogus and politically motivated, and as part of conspiracies between the All Liberian Party of Benoni Urey and the ruling Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) with ulterior motives.

Meanwhile, the state has again asked Magistrate Jallah to extract two to four pages of WhatsApp text messages, produced and included upon demand by Cummings’ lawyers.  

The new request from the state comes after it had admitted on March 30, to omitting four pages of text messages and conversations between Cummings and other executive members of the then CPP, which took place from July 2 -18, 2020 -- saying that they were inadvertently extracted.

But Cummings’ lawyers, in countering the request, said it would be irregular and a serious error on the part of the Monrovia City Court to “order the removal of the four pages of social media text messages following its ruling on March 30, marking it as evidence in the trial.”

The ANC political leader’s lawyers said the four pages of extracted text messages discovered and later ordered included are crucial to vindicating the clients of the charges of forgery and criminal conspiracy.

Regarding prosecutors’ request to postpone the trial for the third time, twice for unavailability, and the third due to the claimed ‘illness’ of a state witness, Theodore Momo, it was vehemently objected to by defense lawyers, and rulings were reserved by the court in all instances.