Will Gbeneweleh Continue in Missing US$16B CBL Case?

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Chief Justice Francis Korkpor (left) and Judge Peter Gbeneweleh, Assigned Judge of Criminal Court ‘C’

Chief Justice Korkpor to decide

The likelihood of assigned Judge Peter Gbeneweleh of Criminal Court ‘C’ presiding over the alleged missing US$835,367.72 and L$2,645,000,000 involving Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) current and past senior officials squarely rests with Chief Justice Francis Korkpor as to whether he will agree to reassign Gbeneweleh to that court to continue with the second reading of a mandate of Chamber Justice Joseph Nagbe.

Justice Nagbe had issued a mandate to Judge Gbeneweleh after the prosecution had accused the judge of taking sides in the proceeding, and wanted the Justice-in-Chamber to end his legal authority in the trial of the case, which mandate Gbeneweleh is yet to read in open court due to the expiration of his quarterly session.

Judge Gbeneweleh had earlier denied the government lawyers’ (prosecution) request to set aside the bail bond filed to release the defendants and to have them (defendants) rearrested and subsequently detained at the Monrovia Central Prison until a new bond could be secured.

Milton A. Weeks, former executive governor of the CBL, filed a property evaluation bond in the amount of US$909,319.88 to secure his release from pre-trial detention.

Accident and Casualty Insurance Company (ACICO) secured the bond for Charles E. Sirleaf, deputy governor, in the amount of US$60,000. The company also secured a US$60,000 bond for Richard Walker, director for operations, Joseph Dennis, deputy director for internal audit and Dorbor Hagba, director finance.

The Grand Jury of Montserrado County indicted the men for multiple crimes, including economic sabotage and misappropriation of public funds following the released reports of two separate investigations into the missing L$16 billion.

It is now in the purview of Chief Justice Korkpor to see if he will allow Gbeneweleh to continue with the reading of the mandate, even though the Judiciary Law Title 17, Liberian Code of Laws Revised TITLE 17, gave the Chief Justice power to assign judges on a rotational basis.

The Judiciary Law Title 17, Liberian Code of Laws Revised TITLE 17, Section 3.9, entitled: ‘Assignment of Judges to Circuits’, provides that “each Circuit Judge, except the judges commissioned as relieving judges, shall preside as resident judge over the Circuit Court of the circuit for which he was appointed.”

It continues, “The Chief Justice shall assign, on a rotating system, a Circuit Judge to each quarterly session of the various circuits and if all business before a circuit court is disposed of before the expiration of a quarterly session, the Chief Justice shall have the power to reassign the Circuit Judge assigned thereto, to sit for the remaining time of the quarterly session in any other circuit in addition to the Circuit Judge currently assigned there, if he deems such reassignment will aid the prompt disposition of judicial business.”

And though “all business before the circuit court”, including this case, has not been disposed of, the Title 17 law suggests that the Chief Justice could reassign another Circuit Judge to Criminal Court ‘C’ if he gets the impression that Judge Gbeneweleh has too full a plate to dispose of all the business before his court.

However, Judge Gbeneweleh’s 42 days assignment as judge of the Criminal Court  ‘C’ has expired, meaning that he cannot read the mandate unless the Chief Justice Korkpor reassigns him to that court.

Judge Gbenewwleh took over the court during the May 2019 Term.

Similar complaint was filed before Justice Nagbe against Judge Gbeneweleh, but the complaint was denied shortly after Gbeneweleh and the prosecution presented their case before the justice in chamber.

Justice Nagbe’s decision came at the time when Judge Gbeneweleh had not made any judgment as to whether or not, he should accept the bond secured to release all the defendants from the Monrovia Central Prison when the prosecution ran to the justice to prevent Gbeneweleh from further proceedings with the matter.

In his challenged ruling, Judge Gbeneweleh said, “this court cannot legally proceed contrary to the provision of the specific statute.”

He continued, “We observed that the total amount of bail bond proffered by the defendants is US$1,149,319.88, which is far and beyond US$13,000 required by Section 13.2 of our criminal procedure law,” Gbeneweleh ruled. He added, “The bail bond proffered by the defendants is sufficient and adequate to release them from pre-trial detention, and also secure and or guarantee their reappearance before the court when required.”

Judge Gbeneweleh said that the sureties of the defendants are also legally qualified to secure the day to day appearance of the defendants before the court.

When he accepted the defendants’ sureties, the judge said, “The surety filed by the defendants is hereby granted and the exception filed by the prosecution challenging their bail bond is denied.”

The CBL executives were arrested following the release of USAID-backed Kroll report, and the report by the Special Presidential Investigation Team (PIT), which uncovered wide-range of discrepancies in the printing of new Liberia banknotes worth billions of LRD, and the controversial disbursement of US$25 million intended to be infused into the economy to curb the rising exchange rate between the Liberian and US dollars.

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