-Criminal Court Judge Gbeisay vows tougher action against disrespectful officials; holds Finance Minister Samuel Tweah in contempt
His annoyance over the refusal of Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah to appear before the Criminal Court ‘C’ on Tuesday March 10 was enough for Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay to openly vow to arrest any official who disrespects the authority of the court.
Minister Tweah allegedly did not send a written excuse for his absence from the court on Tuesday, despite the writ of Subpoena Duce Tecum received and signed for by the minister’s office. ‘Subpoena Duce Tecum,’ means an order that requires a person to come to court or appear at a specific time and place to produce a particular document.
“Besides President George Weah, I can jail any public official who thinks he/she would just disrespect the court and go free,” Judge Gbeisay publicly stated when he held Minister Tweah in contempt after the minister failed to show up on Tuesday.
Judge Gbeisay’s exclusion of President Weah from his list of public officials he threatens to arrest if they were to disrespect the court’s authority is supported by Article 61 of the 1986 Constitution.
That article states that, “The President shall be immune from any suits, actions or proceedings, judicial or otherwise, and from arrest, detention or other actions on account of any act done by him while President of Liberia pursuant to any provision of this Constitution or any other laws of the Republic. The President shall not, however, be immune from prosecution upon removal from office for the commission of any criminal act done while President.”
Before handling a contempt charge against Minister Tweah, the Solicitor General, Cllr. Saymah Syrenius Cephus, openly pleaded with Gbeisay to give him, Cehpus, time to enable him to meet with Tweah and to ensure that the minister appears with those requested documentations that were in his ministry’s possession.
Unfortunately, Cllr. Cehpus himself did not come back to the court to provide details about his appeal to Judge Gbeisay, until Tuesday’s proceedings came to an end.
Minister Tweah’s appearance was necessitated by the testimony of former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai that President George Weah instructed Tweah to pay back US$460,000 as the President’s reimbursement commitment to the US$1.9million that was allegedly withdrawn by Samukai and two others, Joseph Johnson, Deputy Minister For Administration, and Nyumah Dorkor, Comptroller General, out of the “Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) Pension Account” at Ecobank-Liberia.
The government has also pressed multiple offenses ranging from theft of property to criminal conspiracy, economic sabotage, misuse of public money and money laundering against Samukai and his co-defendants.
The account, established in 2009, was a contributory savings fund which deducted salaries from all ranks of the AFL to serve as a supplementary pension benefit to provide assistance to wounded soldiers and to families of deceased soldiers, which the prosecution is claiming that the Late Nigerian General Abdurrahman’s family should not have benefited from.
It was based upon Samukai’s testimony that his lawyers asked Judge Gbeisay to order the issuance of a Wirt of Subpoena Duces Tecum on Minister Tweah to produce the original payment documents that include the letter authorizing the reimbursement, the voucher and any other documents to substantiate the payment by the government, which documentation Minister Tweah did not show-up to produce.
Besides Tweah’s disrespect to the court, Judge Gbeisay also cited the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) to appear before the court and produce the original receipt for the US$460,000 as being testified to by Samukai as the President’s reimbursement commitment to the used AFL funds. It was not clear whether the CBL would follow the foot-steps of Minister Tweah by not appearing before the court yesterday, March 12.
Further to his testimony, Samukai claimed that on January 17, 2018, President George Weah, then President-elect, held a meeting at his residence in Rehab, Paynesville, with Samukai and senior leadership of the AFL, during which they discussed the outstanding issue of a refund to the AFL Welfare Fund, and President Weah confirmed and reiterated in that meeting that he and Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had met and discussed the situation and agreed to refund all monies spent on the AFL from the AFL Welfare Fund during the passage of the budget 2018.
“True to his word and commitment, now President Weah authorized, approved and paid back to the AFL’s Pension and Welfare Account the amount of US$460,000 and the said amount has been reimbursed to that account,” Samukai claimed during his testimony.
The case continues.