….. Suffer fines for allegedly refusing to appear to answer to contempt charges
The failure of Justice Minister Frank Musah Dean and Information Minister Ledgerhood J. Rennie to adhere to a summon by the Full Bench of the Supreme Court has landed the two top government officials into hot water with the High Court.
Dean and Rennie have been fined significantly for reportedly ignoring the calls of the High Court. In addition to the two, Solicitor General-designate Nyenanti Tuan is also facing the wrath of the Supreme Court.
The trio was on June 6 fined US$500 each for failure to appear before the Court after they were held in contempt.
The Court on May 30, summoned the Justice and Information Ministers to show cause why they should not be held in contempt following their statements of condemnation against the judicial system in the wake of the ‘not guilty’ verdict handed down by jurors in favor of the defendants in the US$100 million cocaine case.
Owing to what the ministers termed as travel engagement, the ministers did not appear, rather, they sent Tuan to represent them. However, Tuan was also fined for not carrying with him a written communication from the Ministers about their unavailability.
The US$100 million cocaine case was tried in criminal court C at the Temple of Justice and the not guilty verdict was handed down by jurors selected by the prosecuting arm of the government of Liberia and the defense team.
Following the verdict, the Executive Branch of the government, through the Ministry of Justice, condemned the verdict and the judge who presided over the case, Judge Blamo Dixon — terming the acquittal of four alleged high-profile drug smugglers as appalling.
Dean, in a press statement released immediately following the ruling, said that the verdict was shameful and undermined the country’s effort to clamp down on the illegal transit of illicit drugs.
The acquittal, the government says, 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 said.
“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 the Justice Ministry do to convince the court that the law was broken,” the Minister wondered.
It was in reaction to these damning words and harsh descriptions of the judicial system that the two high-ranking officials were summoned by the court to show proof of why they should not be held in contempt. They failed to appear before the full bench of the High Court and were therefore slapped with hefty fines.
Meanwhile, Dean’s response, issued on May 20, came after 11 of the court’s 12 jurors found Makki Ahmed Issam, Adulai Djalo, Oliver Zayzay, and Malam Conte not guilty of all charges, including money laundering, unlicensed possession of controlled drugs, unlicensed importation of controlled drugs, and criminal conspiracy.
According to the jury, the accused men had no knowledge of the cocaine smuggling operation, as claimed by the government, and that the US$200,000, which was seized from the men, be returned.
The 520-kilogram haul of the illicit substance was seized by authorities in 2022 among containers that TRH Trading had imported from Brazil.
The drugs were estimated to be worth over US$100 million, making it one of the largest drug-related cases in the country’s history.
According to TRH Trading, in whose refrigerated warehouse the container was parked, the accused allegedly offered to pay US$200k for a single container of fresh frozen foods, on which the cocaine was smuggled, which at the time cost less than US$30,000.
The accused, the consignee said, later doubled their offer to US$400,000 within less than eight hours, and finally to US$1 million, a situation they claimed raised a red flag, leading them to contact the United States Ambassador, who passed the information to Liberian security officials.
Meanwhile, the verdict, which shocked Liberia and the international community, has been seen by many as a missed opportunity in Liberia’s fight against illicit drugs which is fast destroying a large portion of the nation’s youthful population.