Liberia: NEC Chair to Testify in Cummings Case

NEC chair Davidetta Browne Lansanah is expected to appear, testify and produce the so- called original framework document.

.... As Magistrate Jallah agrees with former Vice President Boakai’s legal team to subpoena the NEC chair to appear, testify and produce the so-called original framework document of the CPP

The Monrovia City Court is expected to issue a subpoena for the Chairperson of the National Elections Commission to produce the ‘original copy’ of the Collaborating Political Parties framework document which Alexander Cummings and two others are being trialed for altering illegally.

The Court decision came after Cllr. Johnny Momoh argued that former Vice President Joseph Boakai would not testify as a state witness in the absence of the ‘original copy’ of the framework document which Cummings filed at the electoral body while serving as the chair of CPP.

Cllr. Momoh who is serving as one of Boakai’s lawyers then asked the Court to subpoena NEC chair, Davidetta Browne Lansanah, to appear, testify and produce the so-called original framework document, despite the fact the electoral body’s political officer, Ignatius Wesseh, has already testified and produced the same document on April 27.

Justifying the subpoena request, Cllr. Momoh noted that Boakai's presence yesterday at the Court was to testify to the original copy of the framework document, and not a photocopy. As such, the Court should subpoena the chairperson of NEC to produce the document.

“Boakai would have testified to the photocopy of the CPP framework document if it was missing or in the possession of the defendants’ lawyer. But this is not the case.  Instead, the document is in the custody of the NEC,” Cllr. Momoh added.

Agreeing with Cllr. Momoh, Magistrate Jomah Jallah of the Monrovia City Court agrees to issue the subpoena to the NEC chair as a means of compelling her to produce the document in question. Magistrate Jallah noted the evidence must always be produced, and duplicates can only be allowed under the law when the original is missing or in the possession of the prosecution.

“Mr. Clerk you are hereby ordered to issue a Subpoena on NEC Chairperson with all-party litigants’ presence,” Magistrate Jallah ordered. “The court is granted the prosecution’s request that its witnesses cannot testify to photocopy, but rather the original copy should be present before it witness can take the stance.”

Citing Chapter 9, Section 9.12 of the Civil Procedure Law of Liberia, the prosecutors which now include Boakai lawyers prayed the court that the proceeding is deferred to a later date until the original document is produced — a request Magistrate Jallah granted.

Cummings and two other leaders of the Alternative National Congress are on trial for forgery and criminal conspiracy, regarding the alleged tampering of the CPP framework agreement.

Cummings and his partisans have denied the claim.

The former VP as a state witness is expected to share with the court what he knows, specifically as it relates to the copy of the framework document submitted to NEC by Cummings, as well as other information that prosecutors need to implicate Cummings in the commission of the act.

Prosecutors are heavily relying on the former VP's testimony, which they believe is important to them in the criminal trial against Cummings, the political leader of the ANC, and his co-defendants, the party Chairman Daniel Naatehn and Secretary-General Aloysius Toe, due to his firsthand knowledge about the CPP framework document, which prosecutors alleged were altered by the defendants.

But the ANC officials have vehemently rejected and denied the charges as bogus, and politically motivated as part of conspiracies between the All Liberian Party of Benoni Urey, whose complaint to the government is the basis of the trial.

Nothing like ‘original framework

Earlier, while responding to a subpoena from the Court in February, Cummings denied having in his position any document called the CPP original framework. Cummings and his co-accused informed Magistrate Jallah then that none of the defendants, singly or jointly or along with the representatives of the CPP, signed received, or have what is described as the "original signed framework document of May 19, 2020."

"Hence, we do not have the document described in the subpoena as the 'original signed Framework document of May 19, 2020.' This document has never existed and does not exist," Cummings and his co-defendant informed magistrate Jallah.  "Rather, the only signed Framework document is the one filed with NEC in July 2020, and a copy of which is attached to this communication."

“The only May 19, 2020 document we know of was signed symbolically via Zoom with each signing party in a separate location. This document was never actually, physically signed by the parties because before efforts could be advanced to get the wet ink signatures of all the political leaders and chairpersons of all the constituent parties on this document, there emerged irresistible public backlash about the content of the document," the defendants’ added.

The May 19, 2020 document, which had in its contentious clause, forced the leaders of the CPP then to have the document reviewed, revised, and amended by a team of lawyers whose revised version Boakai and others are claiming was never approved by them before being filed by Cummings at NEC.

Ploy to willfully delay

However, the defendants argued that it was this revised and amended document that was approved and signed by the parties, and filed with the NEC in July 2020, “whereupon the CPP was certificated by the NEC on August 14, 2020.”

Meanwhile, Cummings and his co-defendants' lawyers have termed the action by the Monrovia City Court to grant the subpoena request, in demand of retrieving the original framework document NEC before Boakai and others can testify as a calculated ploy to willfully delay the trial and defeat justice.

The defendants’ lawyers contended that five months into the trial, the judge has persistently been bombarded with unmerited and unreasonable requests by state prosecutors — which they described “as an indication of the state's ill-preparedness and lack of evidence to warrant prosecution.”

At yesterday's Court appearance, Boakai legal team headed by former Chief Justice Gloria Musu Scott was seen exercising direct control of the matter, instead of Solicitor General, Syrenius Cephus.

However, it was later clarified that Cllr. Scott, who was once subpoenaed as state witness and later dropped, has now been listed as state lawyer along with four others formerly of the Sherman and Sherman Law Firm as a result of their legal representation of Boakai.

The trial at Monrovia City Court was initiated after the ALP, founded by businessman Urey, complained of Cummings to the government for forgery and criminal conspiracy, regarding the alleged tampering of the Collaborating Political Parties framework agreement. The ALP leader, who is a strong political ally of former Vice President Boakai and his Unity Party (UP), is fulfilling his promise to seek legal action for an “unlawful attachment” of its leader’s signature to the now-defunct CPP framework document. 

It is an open secret that Urey has opposed Cummings’ Presidential ambition — creating some kind of bad blood between the two. The CPP, which was once seen as a threat to the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change, collapsed after the UP withdrew from the collaboration “due to Cummings’ failure to attend meetings” that were intended to resolve an impasse over the alleged framework tampering, Boakai said in a statement.

However, the ANC rejected the former vice president's claims — instead, they blamed his ‘inability’ to unite and reconcile the CPP as the primary reason for its collapse.