It appears that the Liberian government is getting serious about prosecuting individuals who are caught misapplying millions of United States dollars intended for the country’s development.
This was clearly demonstrated yesterday at Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice where government lawyers have begun the prosecution of four of the seven former senior managers of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), and a senior surveyor, at the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy assigned in Grand Bassa County.
Moses Wogbeh, the dismissed FDA Managing Director, along with Jangar Kamara, manager for commercial forestry, John Kortor, technical manager, Maxwell Gwee, director of cartography, David Blayee, senior surveyor assigned in Grand Bassa County were accused of facilitating the wrongful and illegal issuance of sixty-one Private Use Permits (PUPS) that authorized commercial logging operations on nearly 2.5 million hectares of farm land.
They were further accused of “blatant abuse” of their respective offices and violation of several provisions of the National Forestry Reform Law (NFRL) 2006 and the Community Rights Law 2009, which caused government a loss in revenue of over US$6 million.
The accused denied the charges when they were first arraigned before the court.
The crimes for which they are being tried include economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy, forgery or counterfeiting, obtaining and issuing deceptive writings and obstruction of government functions by public servants.
Testifying yesterday as prosecution second witness, James Dorbor Jallah, who chaired the Special Independent Investigative Body (SIIB), charged that in August 2012 defendants Wogbeh and Kamara, with the intent to defraud the Government and create an opportunity for the PUP holders to defraud government, disregarded the moratorium the President of Liberia placed on all PUPs.
As for defendant Gwee, Jallah alleged he issued certificates of correction, which without authority, increased the allocation of land deeded and granted by President Sirleaf to land owners without the law.
And for defendant Kortor, Jallah also claimed he personally received money from logging companies.
Defendant Blayee, Jallah alleged, was discovered with many fraudulent verification letters under his signature claiming that the PUPs were granted to companies.
Jallah, also head of the Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) and a volunteer on the Ebola Incident Management Team, said that some of the investigative methods used included gathering experts’ opinions on the content and background of the PUPs, reviewing of the contract documents, interview with the defendants and visitations to PUP holders’ locations in a number of counties.
He was quick to point out that his team did not investigate surveyor Blayee but he did not explain why the surveyor was not probed.
When asked whether he knew all of the defendants, Jallah’s response was, “Yes I know all of them. There they are seated in the dock.”
Asked what the responsibility of his committee was, the PPCC boss stated that PPCC was responsible for investigating the defendants over their alleged involvement in the wrongful and illegal issuance of PUPs.
He said interviews were conducted in person and the defendants were informed that each of their statements would be recorded.
“Each of them was duly informed that the conversation was recorded for future action or in a court of competent jurisdiction,” Jallah stated.
He said, “They all agreed to be recorded and we went ahead.” The trial continues.