Liberia: Washing MOJ’s Dirty Clothes Outside?

The Minister of Justice Cllr. Frank Musah Dean (right) and Solicitor General Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus.

.... Justice Minister, Solicitor General trade jabs over prosecution of Cummings, others

The Minister of Justice Cllr. Frank Musah Dean has demanded the country’s Solicitor General furnish his office with the proper evidence which provides the basis for the prosecution of Alexander B. Cummings and others, hours after he had been accused of deep-rooted conspiracy as it relates to the trial.

Cllr. Dean noted that as the Minister of Justice, he is under obligation to ensure that the purpose of prosecution is not to taint, harass, grandstand, punish or convict, but to pursue the “truth; and that in the instant case, the writ against Cummings and others was never quashed and, therefore, could not have been reinstated by the office of the Minister.”

Cummings, along with his party chair, Senator Daniel Naatehn and Secretary-General Aloysius Toe, are being prosecuted by the government based on a complaint from Benoni Urey of the All Liberia Party for forgery and criminal conspiracy, regarding the alleged tampering of the CPP’s framework agreement. 

However, the ANC leader and co-defendants have denied the charges and accused the government of political witch-hunting and a politically motivated conspiracy between Urey and the ruling CDC with ulterior motives.

However, the Minister’s statement invalidates claims by the Solicitor General Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus that it was the Minister of Justice who ordered the re-issuance of the writ of arrest against Cummings after it was first quashed.

Cllr. Cephus noted that he was acting under the instruction of the Minister when he issued the writ of arrest for the political leader of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) and his party executives.

“A lot of misinformation is going on about my role in the Cummings and others trial but the truth is it was the Minister of Justice who ordered the re-issuance of the writ of arrest against them after it was first quashed,” Solicitor-General Cephus wrote to Stanton A. Witherspoon, the CEO of Spoon Communication Network, while the ANC political leader was being interviewed on April 24. “I am only a prosecutor who is acting under his control and supervision but he’s afraid to take a firm decision and believes that I will unilaterally abandon the case so that he can use it against me to the government and people of Liberia.”

Cllr. Cephus then questioned the efficiency of the Justice Minister in the wake of multiple crimes being reported in the country without any arrest being made.

He added, “Look at the wave of crimes being committed in the country and there are no arrests and prosecutions and yet there’s a Justice Minister who believes his role is being usurped by someone like me whose role is simply to go to court.”

Cllr. Cephus, while describing his role as a frontline commander who only acts on instructions, noted that it is only the Minister of Justice who has the constitutional backing to disagree with the government on the question of law and still keep his job and is also the only person who can order a matter to be dismissed.

Meanwhile, Min. Dean reminds Cllr. Cephus that his directive is consistent with section 22.2 of the Executive Law, which states that: “it shall be the duty of the Minister of Justice to ‘procure the proper evidence for, and conduct, prosecute or defend all suits and proceedings in the courts in which the Republic of Liberia or any officer thereof, as to such officer, is a party or maybe interested.” 

“The Minister of Justice further cautioned that henceforth, the prosecution of all cases must be approved by his office; and prosecutors are advised to furnish the office of the Minister with the proper evidence in support of any and all prosecutions.”

Justice Minister Dean has in the past complained that the Solicitor General runs a parallel Ministry and shows no regard to his (Minister’s) office — insinuating that the country’s chief prosecutor may not have consulted him on the Cummings’ case.

The Minister’s claims would be validated by revelations from Cllr. Wesseh A. Wesseh, the Assistant Minister for Litigation at the Ministry of Justice, accusing Cllr. Cephus of undermining cases at the detriment of the Justice System.

The spar between the Justice Minister and the Solicitor General came after Cummings on April 23 vowed to beat back efforts by the Ministry of Justice to have him convicted for allegedly forging the framework document of the Collaborating Political Parties.

Cummings, who is the political leader of the Alternative National Congress, argued that he is not just innocent, but subject to wrongful "prosecution" — with the aim of weakening his presidential bid which, he believes, could make President George Weah a one-time president.

“I am innocent. And I am being wrongfully tried. This is persecution instead of prosecution, but I will win,” Cummings added. “I will triumph over the government no matter what they do. The charges are frivolous.  I am going to win against the government in court.

“I fully expect that this trial will end in the next two to three weeks. They have no evidence and the facts are on our side. No matter what, I will win against the government in court,” he added.

The ANC leader noted that what baffled him most is that while he is being tried at the magisterial court, one of the lower courts in Liberia, the country's Solicitor General is personally prosecuting this case when there are other serious crimes to be prosecuted, which he has dodged and is nowhere to be seen.

He added that while his case is all political, it is bad that the government is using the Judiciary to prosecute a political opponent — something that is “not good for our democracy, and not good for our country.”

Cummings further said that his trial is not just unacceptable but a mockery of the country's Judiciary, but hopes that the Judiciary can take note and resist being controlled.

The trial against Cummings and his co-defendants has reached a point where the prosecutor is finding it difficult to have a second witness to testify against the defendants. 

The second witness, in person of former President Joseph Nyumah Boakai, has yet to testify and it seems as though he does not plan to. Earlier this week, the sheriff of the Monrovia City Court complained about the difficulty in locating the former VP to serve him a subpoena. 

However, the Secretary-General of UP, Mo Ali, told the Daily Observer on April 19 — a day before Mr. Boakai was due to appear in court — that neither he nor his party was aware of any subpoena issued to its political leader to testify in the ongoing trial of Cummings and other members of the ANC. 

Now the Ministry of Justice has appealed to Magistrate Jomah Jallah to grant its request of deposition as a means of having the former Vice President answer questions under oath. 

The Ministry’s appeal was communicated via Cllr. Cephus — asking the Court to have Boakai appear for a deposition as part of the prosecution’s right to preserve testimonial evidence and prove its case despite the unavailability of its witness. 

Prosecutors are heavily relying on the former VP’s testimony, which is valuable to them in the criminal trial against Cummings and his co-defendants, due to his firsthand knowledge about the CPP framework document, which prosecutors alleged was altered by the defendants.  

Earlier, Attorney Adolphus Karnuah, a member of the prosecution team, had 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 came forth 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.