The trial of two customs officers accused of receiving a US$500 bribe from businessman Abraham Gumbaja Sinayoko, opened yesterday at Criminal Court ‘C’ in Monrovia. Unperceived by them, a closed circuit television (CCTV) captured the alleged pay off.
At yesterday’s hearing, defendants Joseph Weeks and Linda Sumowood, both assigned to the Customs Business Office (CBO) at the Freeport of Monrovia, denied the allegation.
They declared their denial when the indictment containing multiple charges including economic sabotage, bribery and criminal facilitation was read to the prospective jury panel.
The lawsuit against Weeks and Sumowood was filed to the court by the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA).
Meanwhile, the selection of the jurors expected to assist Judge Yussif Kaba in deciding the matter also began yesterday.
Prosecution alleges that before December 29, 2016, defendant Weeks, while in the employ of the LRA, demanded and received the amount of US$500 from Sinayoko, who had shipped into the country a container of assorted commodities.
They further allege that the payment was under the pretense that Sinayoko owed government additional duties amounting to US$2,352.91.
During that time, the court document claims Weeks informed Sinayoko that his container was reassessed and that the re-assessment showed that Sinayoko was to pay an additional duty to the tune of US$2,352.91 before his container could be cleared from the Freeport.
Initially, the record alleges Sinayoko agreed to pay US$1000 to Weeks, which amount the defendant rejected, and later demanded US$500, although there were additional duties to be paid by Sinayoko.
After hours of negotiation, the court document alleges Sinayoko agreed to pay the US$500, but the payment was made to Weeks by one Varney Johnson believed to be Sinayoko’s broker.
On December 29, 2016, Johnson received the US$500 from Sinayoko and turned the money over to Weeks for the reduction of the non-existent additional duties, according to the court record.
Forgetting that he was at work and seated behind his customer service counter, Weeks proceeded to allegedly collect the US$500 from Johnson while the transaction was being captured on the CCTV, a security system installed in the Customs Business Office to monitor all transactions in that office.
After collecting the US$500 that was placed in a white envelope, Weeks immediately opened and counted the money and was captured on the camera putting it in the right pocket of his trousers.
When the payment was made to Weeks, the court record further alleges that he took Sinayoko’s customs documents and gave them to Johnson who later demanded his share of the US$500.
The court document also alleges that when Weeks refused to give Johnson his share of the money, both men got into a heated argument prompting the intervention of one Albert Peter, an officer of the Liberia National Police (LNP).
During the argument, Officer Peter asked Weeks to step from behind his assigned counter.
While walking from his counter, the court document claims that Weeks placed the US$500 in a box (carton) on the desk of defendant Sumowood, who later concealed the money.
“Sumowood being aware that a criminal investigation was being carried out by Officer Peter, folded the US$500 and walked away with the intention of frustrating the efforts of the investigation,” the record alleges.
Later, when Sumowood was informed that the security camera had captured her folding the money and leaving her assigned counter, she immediately confessed to the LRA administration and subsequently returned the US$500, court record claims.
The case continues.