Audio Testimony Banned in US$6M PUP Fraud Trial

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Government lawyers prosecuting four former managers of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and a senior surveyor, of the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy assigned in Grand Bassa County could find it difficult to convict the defendants, after their request for the admission of a tape recorded evidence was disallowed yesterday by Judge Peter W. Gbeneweleh of Criminal Court C.

  Judge Gbeneweleh said prosecution’s audio “recording points to defendants’ testimony and could not be allowed as state evidences at the trial.”

The tape is a crucial piece of evidence, because it could clearly establish what the defendants’ explanations were regarding their individual roles when they were investigated by the Special Independent Investigation Body (SIIB).

The defendants rejected jury trial because of the nature of the case meaning Judge Gbeneweleh is serving as a juror and judge.

Judge Gbeneweleh meanwhile ruled that the method used by the Jallah Committee was an administrative action intended to compile their report and have it submitted to President Sirleaf and it cannot be used against the defendants in the criminal trial.

 He reached the decision after hearing arguments that lasted over several hours as to whether to allow the recorded evidence as part of the trial.

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.

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.

Jallah who is prosecution’s second witness testified on Monday that his committee recorded testimony of the defendants to enable the committee to compile its report and submit it to the President.  He further admitted that his committee did not allow lawyers to represent the defendants during the recording.

The defense team contended that the method used by the SIIB to record testimonies of the defendants was illegal and should not be admissible as one of prosecution’s evidences.

In counter argument, prosecution said that the defendants were never forced to record their testimonies but rather, they consented to the audio recordings.

A portion of the recording was allowed to be played in court before Judge Gbeneweleh denied it from being admitted.

The content of the tape recording have numerous references, people, places and activities that would have supported the testimonies of other witnesses, including Mr. Jallah.

The recording quoted the SIIB head as saying, “This recording is not a criminal investigation, it is only to help us compile our reports and have it submitted to President Sirleaf.”

The current Managing director of FDA, Mr. Harrison Karnwea testified on Monday during the trial.

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