Liberia: Tampering vs. Tampering

Alexander Cummings (L) of the ANC was sued by the Liberian government and the All Liberian Party of Benoni Urey, for forgery and criminal conspiracy, regarding the alleged tampering of the CPP framework agreement.  The case was prosecuted by the Solicitor-General  Cllr. Syrenius Cephus (right).

... As prosecutors Caught ‘pants down’ having tampered with evidence in a criminal case about CPP Framework tampering 

Strangely, on March 30, a member of the prosecution team, Attorney AdolphusKarnuah, admitted to the Monrovia City Court, where the standard-bearer and other leaders of the opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC) are currently being trial with multiple offenses, that they omitted several portions of the social media exchanges and text message shreds of evidence that were confirmed by Magistrate Jomah Jallah. 

Atty. Karnuah's confession comes after days of intense investigation by Magistrate Jallah, about the complaint filed by lawyers representing Alexander Cummings, accusing the Solicitor General, of extracting from his evidence, the exchanges of social media text messages between Cummings and other leaders of the CPP in the National Advisory Council chatroom.

Cllr. Cephus claimed the exchanges of social media and text messages took place between July 2, and July 19, 2020. According to Cephus, this led to the alleged alteration of the controversial framework document of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), by the defendants. 

Unfortunately, while submitting his documentary evidence to Magistrate Jallah, Cephus, however, maintained that the defendants’ social media and text messages exchanges occurred between July 2 and 19, but he failed to include the document that contained said communications as part of his evidence that was confirmed by the court. 

Interestingly, after days of sober reflection of Cephus’ documentary evidence, Cummings’ legal team discovered that Cephus, in his submission of his documentary evidence, had extracted the July 2-19 social media conversations among the defendants, from the court records. 

Cummings’ legal team did not just stop there; they asked Magistrate Jallah to conduct an immediate investigation so as to establish the truthfulness of the Cephus’ documentary evidence extraction. 

It was during the investigation, on Wednesday, that Atty. Karnuah admitted to the defense team about the prosecution’s omission of the documents from the court records.  And though Cephus is the leading prosecutor in the case, he was nowhere to be found on the premises of the court, as he is regularly whenever the Cummings’ case is scheduled for a hearing.  During his opening confession statement, Atty. Karnuah said, “the omission was an inadvertent (without intention; accidental) error.” 

Karnuah also did not blame any single prosecutor, including the accused, Cllr.Cephus, for their unexpected error. 

“We bring along with us, the corrected version, and we want the court to discard the one version, that had the July 2 and 19 omitted,” Karnuah pleaded with the court. “We want the corrected version to be confirmed and to find a cogent part in the proceedings. And, the correction or photocopy of the conversation [from between] July 2 and 19, should be given to the defense to have them inserted into the prosecution documentary evidence in the proceeding. "

The action by Cephus and his team of prosecutors violates Rule 7 of the Rules of Moral and Ethical Conduct governing the behavior of lawyers in Liberia. The rule forbids lawyers from suppressing and secreting information and evidence capable of proving the innocence of a defendant. Rule 7 states: “The primary duty of the lawyer engaged in public prosecution is not to convict, but to see that justice is done. The suppression of facts or the secreting of witnesses capable of establishing the innocence of the accused is highly reprehensible and utterly unprofessional.”

Before the admission by prosecutors, Cephus described Cummings’ lawyers' claim of ‘prosecutorial misconduct' as a deliberate misinformation campaign that is “absolutely misguided and utterly appalling.”

“The allegation of prosecutorial misconduct as alleged by the defense team is shameful and very unfortunate for the defense team to make such an application on the records of the court,” the state said in a release laying bare its response to Cummings’ lawyer’s allegation of prosecutorial misconduct. 

The state by then vehemently dismissed the prosecutorial misconduct claim, saying the evidence in question belongs to the prosecution — so it is “inconceivable as to how the prosecution can extract documents from its evidence that is being used to prosecute the criminal defendants but which the defense team alleges should have exonerated their clients.”

“The Solicitor-General, on behalf of the prosecution, categorically denies violating Rule 7 of the Rules of Moral Code and Ethical Conduct,” the state release said. “It calls on the defense to mount appropriate legal challenges to the quantum of evidence being presented by the prosecution rather than hatching an ill-fated ploy to blackmail and distract the general public from closely following what will eventually end up with the criminal conviction of co-defendant Cummings and lieutenants because of the prosecution’s preponderance of the evidence.”

But after more than a week of denial, the prosecution has finally admitted to omission of the documents from the court records, claiming that “the omission was an inadvertent (without intention; accidental) error.” 

Meanwhile, Magistrate Jallah, in accepting the prosecution’s admission, and request to replace the corrected documentary evidence, the magistrate said, since the prosecutors conceded to the omission of some of the social media and text messages exchanges evidence, and without any objections from Cummings’ lawyers, even though, it was already confirmed, and since it was done inadvertently, the corrected version would find a cogent part of the case. 

“But, the defense team will verify it and to ensure that the information contained in it is correct. Therefore, the corrected version should form a cogent part of the case,” Magistrate Jallah's said, in his ruling. 

Even though Cummings’s lead lawyer, Counselor Abraham Sillah, did not raise any contention involving the extraction of the social media and text messages exchanges, Sillah warned the prosecutors to avoid further omission of evidence. 

“We will thoroughly review every piece of evidence and, if there is any further omission of evidence, that will be brought back to the court's attention,” Sillah cautioned Cephus concerning the omission of key evidence. 

Throughout, the trial, Cummings has denied having any knowledge about the framework alteration, oftentimes describing it as “being politically motivated and a conspiracy between the All Liberia Party, of Benoni Urey, one of the four parties of the CPP, and the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) of President George Weah, with ulterior motives.

He is being sued by the Liberian government and the ALP for forgery and criminal conspiracy, regarding the alleged tampering with the CPP framework agreement.