The Statutory Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, has promised to support the Ministry of Justice to create and legislate ‘Criminal Court F,’ which will be dedicated to deal with only ‘Corruption Cases.’
This, accordingly, will ease frustration associated with the capacity of the ordinary machinery of the judiciary to adequately deal with corruption cases.
The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Grand Kru County District #2 Representative J. Fonati Koffa, said the most common argument for the creation of Criminal Court F, is the need for greater efficiency in resolving corruption cases promptly, which will signal to various domestic and international ordinances that Liberia takes the fight against corruption seriously.
Rep. Koffa spoke on Monday, July 15, during a hearing with Liberia’s Solicitor General (SG), Cllr. Cyrenius Cephus on the work of the “Asset Investigative, Recovery and Restitution Team” to curb corruption and restitute at least US$4.6 billion, which was allegedly embezzled over 10 years.
Rep. Koffa, a lawyer by profession, said that the establishment of a corruption court will enable the government to fight corruption cases, unlike in the past, whereby government won ‘one case’ among the tons of corruption cases on the docket.
There are reported concerns about the ability of the existing courts to handle corruption cases impartiality and without being corrupted themselves, which have necessitated the decision to create Criminal Court F to fast-track corruption related cases.
At Monday’s hearing, Rep. Koffa said that the Committee is in full support of Cllr. Cephus’ fight against corruption and, at the same time, called for the full involvement of the Liberia Anti-corruption Commission (LACC) in the work of the Asset Investigative, Recovery and Restitution Team.
Members of the House Judiciary Committee who were in the hearing included Representatives Ellen Attoh Wreh, Joseph Somwarbi, Edward Karfiah and Rustonlyn S. Dennis.
Koffa said currently, when individual Liberian(s) are indicted on issues bordering on corruption, they feel confident that they can walk into and be freed “based on other factors.”
“It is only in our judicial system, that you have someone indicted for criminal offense, who is undergoing trial, and when such an individual traveled to the United States, he/she would be posting on social media all sorts of comments,” Rep. Koffa said.
He added that the war against corruption can be won with a strong system, such as the corruption court that will set precedent and deter people from being corrupt.
Cllr. Cephus said earlier that his years of experience as a criminal lawyer, he has all it takes to fight corruption to the letter. “There, I am prepared to go after all individuals, who stole millions of United States Dollars from the State treasury,” he assured.
Cephus said that the fight against corruption will be strictly on the basis of audit reports, and not witch-hunting, as has often been perceived by some individuals. To achieve his objective, he said his office has quietly begun distributing communications to persons of interest, adding that the first option in the corruption fight will be the restitution. Failure to comply, according to him, will result to the next step, which is prosecution.
Additionally, Cllr. Cephus said that in the case of prosecution, the team will apply to the Court to have asset(s) seized, “but anyone being indicted will be given the chance to choose between restitution and prosecution.”
“Members of the Committee, we need your support in this fight. This is why we will soon be knocking on your doors for an amount of US$2.1 million as budget in this fight,” Cllr. Cephus implored. This fight, he said, is the pursuit of a whopping US$4.6 billion of stolen funds as revealed by 256 audit reports over the last ten years. He told the committee, however, that the work of the Asset Investigative, Recovery and Restitution Team will be strictly “confidential.”
Meanwhile, the Judiciary Committee has announced that the LACC will be summoned in the coming week to serve as witness also on the fight against corruption, and also to collaborate with authorities of the Justice Ministry.