Liberia: Supreme Court to Hear Ecobank’s Request for Separate Trial

Associate Justice Jamesetta Wolokollie.

….. In Secretary Singbeh’s US$5M Case 

Associate Justice Jamesetta Wolokollie is expected to begin hearing arguments as to whether or not she should review and, if possible, to correct the ‘erroneous’ ruling of Judge Ciapha Carey of the Criminal Court “C” granting Ecobank’s request for a separate trial.

Wolokollie is the justice presiding in the Chambers of the Supreme Court, before whom the government has asked to issue an alternative writ of certiorari, to correct mistakes that the prosecutors claimed were made by Judge Carey to allow the bank to be tried separately from the rest of the other defendants, including the Secretary of the Liberian Senate, Nanborlor Singbeh, and several other co-defendants.

If Justice Wolokollie were to issue the writ against Carey’s judgment, it means that the bank will be tried along with Singbeh and the other defendants, which the bank is trying to avoid. 

On March 29, 2022, Judge Carey ruled and granted Ecobank’s motion for severance and separate trial on grounds that, if the bank were to be tried along with Singbeh and the other defendants, its defenses and interests would be prejudiced in the ongoing US$5 million theft case.

The bank is indicted by the government for allegedly conspiring with Singbeh and the other defendants to open a bogus current account, in which two Czech Republic investors, Martin Miloschewsky and Pavel Miloschewsky, unknowingly wired about US$2,495,109, and said money was siphoned from that bogus account with the assistance of the bank management, and Singbeh.

The bank, however, filed a motion for severance and separate trial before Judge Carey, arguing that it will be prejudiced were Ecobank tried along with the other defendants, to include Singbeh, because their defenses are hostile to the other co-defendants.

Interestingly, during his ruling, Carey said Ecobank is a legally registered financial institution in the Republic of Liberia, that has operated for more than fifteen (15) uninterrupted years. According to the judge, as a financial institution, the co-defendant Ecobank is regulated by the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL). 

Carey added that the indictment jointly charged the bank and other defendants for theft of property, forgery and criminal conspiracy. 

“In the mind of this court, the bank’s argument that its defenses and interests are different from the other defendants is correct,” the judge declared, justifying his decision per the bank’s request for severance and separate trial.

In the government’s petition, filed by Counselor Wesseh A. Wesseh, Assistant Minister for litigation at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Wesseh prayed Justice Wolokollie to review, correct and set aside that which is believed by him to be an erroneous ruling made by Judge Carey.

Wesseh  argued that Judge Carey abused his descretion when he granted Ecobank's separate trial.

Wesseh, however, argued that Carey was in error when he granted Ecobank a separate trial, as the bank was investigated along with other defendants, including Singbeh, by the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission (LACC) for not following the Central Bank of Liberia regulation. 

“Ecobank’s management conspired with Singbeh to open a bogus current account, in which the Czech Republic investors, Martin Miloschewsky and Pavel Miloschewsky, unknowingly wired several million United States dollars, and said money was siphoned from that bogus account by co-defendant Nanborlor Singbeh and others,” Wesseh said in his petition.

Wesseh further contends that, in Judge Carey’s ruling, the judge’s emphasis that co-defendant Ecobank is a legally registered financial institution and is regulated by the CBL, “is a factual issue that cannot be used as a conduit to grant her a severance and separate trial, having been indicted with criminal conspiracy in the indictment, which petitioner says it will prove during trial of the case.” 

Before the petition, Wesseh repeatedly told Judge Carey that Ecobank was jointly indicted along with the other defendants to include Singbeh; however, the judge played a deaf ear to the request and ruled in favor of the bank.

“They all participated in the same crimes, as such, their defenses are not hostile to the other defendants, and that if the bank were to be severed from the other defendants, and if the application were to be granted, it would collapse the criminal indictment brought against the rest of the other defendants,” Wesseh further argued, but, Carey did not see any magnitude in said argument.

It can be recalled that some time in 2019, the LACC conducted a comprehensive investigation, wherein they said, between August 2013 to 2018, Singbeh, with the knowledge and consent of Ecobank's management, a “bogus account” was opened and operated, in the name of MHM Eko Liberia, a Czech owned mining company, that has expressed interest to invest in the country.

That account, according to the LACC, was managed by the Secretary of the Liberian Senate, Nanborlor Singbeh, then president and chief executive officer (CEO) of the company.

Besides, the anti graft agency accused the bank of refusing to respect the regulations of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), about the opening of a foreign company's account, with foreign investors being signatories to the account.

To ignore the CBL regulations, the LACC claimed, the bank management with criminal intent decided to allow a Czech Republic national, Karel Socher, then general manager of MHM Eko, to serve as Signatory 'B' to the account.

Surprisingly, the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS), and the Ministry of Labor (MoL), according to the LACC, wrote the investigators that Socher did not hold a resident and work permits to qualify him under the CBL regulations to be one of the signatories to the account.

The LACC also claimed that another Czech Republic national, Ales Sranmek, who the bank named as Signatory ‘C’, has never traveled to Liberia to open the account, according to the LIS letter.

The investigation also established that with those signatories, the bank, however, issued the company account number, titled: Ecobank #005-101-472-820-1.

It was that account, the anti graft commission claimed, Socher and Singbeh used to influence two Czech Republic investors Martin Miloschewsky and Pavel Miloschewsky, to refer and deposit the amount of US$2,495,109.

The LACC relied on this documentary evidence to charge the bank of conspiring with Singbeh and Socher, to dupe the Miloschewsky brothers.

It can also be recalled that in 2012, Justice Wolokollie, while presiding as Chamber Justice, protected Ecobank in the US$34 million damages suit that the Intestate Estate of the Late Milad Hage brought against the bank.

In the case with Hage's family and the bank, Justice Wolokollie, then chamber justice, issued the same writ filed by lawyers representing the bank. She however, placed a halt on the reading of the sealed verdict of the trial jury of the Civil Law Court, that was against the bank.

To ensure that the verdict was not read, Wolokollie immediately disbanded the trial jury; the matter is now a mystery.

When she issued the mandate to the Late Judge Emmanuel Kollie, Justice Wolokollie then said: “By directive of Her Honor, Jamesetta Howard Wolokollie, Associate Justice presiding in Chambers, you are hereby ordered to disband the trial jury, in the case, since the writ of certiorari has already been issued.”

It is not clear whether she is going to protect the bank again in the US$5 million case.

Judge Carey’s ruling was delivered on March 29, 2022.

But, in Carey's ruling, he said, the bank deserved severance and separate trial from the Singbeh and the other defendants, because, the bank’s defenses and interests are different from the other defendants, which, if they are jointly tried, it would be an injustice to the bank.

The question, however, remains: Will Justice Wolokollie reverse Judge Carey’s ruling, favoring defendant Ecobank?