Defense lawyers’ request seeking to drop government’s charges against former Managing Director of the Liberia Airport Authority, Ellen Corkrum and co-defendant Melvin Johnson, was on Monday, June 2, denied by Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice.
The two were charged in early 2013, with the commission of the crimes economic sabotage, theft of property, criminal conspiracy and misapplication of entrusted property.
They are alleged to have defrauded the country of US$269,000, which their legal team sought the Court to dismiss.
Denying the request, Judge Yussif Kaba declared that the Court cannot try a criminal defendant in absentia of the court’s jurisdiction.
Additionally, Judge Kaba said, “The acquisition of jurisdiction by the Court over a Criminal defendant gives the said defendant standing before the Court.”
He went on to say, “Without standing, a party cannot apply to the court for relief.”
According to the Judge, “The voluntary absence of the defendants from the bailiwick of the Republic of Liberia, in spite of knowledge of an indictment against them, certainly deprives them to qualify and seek relief at the hands of our court.”
Judge Kaba’s ruling came down in favor of the prosecution, which had, prior to the ruling, filed a motion before the Court, praying it to deny the defense team’s request for dismissal. State lawyers argued that in the absence of acquisition by the Court of Jurisdiction over the defendants, it cannot proceed to make any determination in respect of their rights.
Prosecution further claimed to have filed with the United States Department of Justice a request for extradition in order to have the defendants brought back to Liberia to stand trial.
They argued that said request is currently being reviewed by the Department of Justice, with which they remain constantly engaged in respect of said request.
The defense team in counter argument, however, said that since the Government of Liberia had failed to legally employ due diligence to have the defendants brought under its jurisdiction, GoL cannot now challenge the competence of the court to proceed to make any determination in respect of the rights of their clients.
They further criticized prosecution's claim to have employed all due diligence to have the defendants in the case extradited to Liberia through the filing of a requisition petition to the United States Department of Justice.
“Same is also an incurable legal blunder,” defense lawyers said. “Under our practice and procedure, our statute provides that requisition petition must be filed through the Secretary of State and not the Department of Justice as alleged by the State.”
That notwithstanding, Judge Kaba denied the defense's request for not appearing in person "in spite of knowledge of an indictment against them". This legal strategy could force the defendants to voluntarily appear before the judge in the Republic of Liberia (quite apart from any extradition proceedings, which could take time) if they are to gain any ground in what is already shaping up to be a prima facie case against them.
As such, pending their arrival, no date has been set for further legal proceedings.