Failure of government to prosecute 10 persons, eight of whom are former officials of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) and the other two a former member of the House of Representatives and a secretary of the Liberian Senate, implicated in a US$120,400 “bribery scandal” were last Friday declared free of all charges against them by Criminal Court ‘C,’ at the Temple of Justice.
Those officials who were declared free last Friday included Mr. Clemenceau Urey, Sr., former Chairman, NOCAL Board of Directors, and former board members Stephen B. Dunbar Jr., Peter B. Jallah Jr., Evelyn Kandakai and Albert T. Chie.
Others are NOCAL’s former CEO Dr. Fodee Kromah, Fulton Reeves, Comptroller and Timothy G. Wiapiah, former Senior Accountant. Alomiza Ennos Barr, former member of the 52nd Legislature and J. Nanborlor Singbe Sr., Secretary of the Liberian Senate were also released of any charges.
The Prosecution claimed that those individuals between the periods of May 2006 and May 2007, allegedly engaged in the solicitation of payments and receipt of money in the amount of US$120,400 for the ratification by the 52nd National Legislature of oil contracts entered into by NOCAL and several oil companies.
It was based on those allegations that government charged them with multiple crimes, which included economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy and bribery of which GOL sought the court’s intervention to convict the defendants.
To the disappointment of the prosecution, Judge Peter Gbeneweleh last Friday dismissed the charges, stating that “the state failed to commence prosecution of the defendants within the statutory period of five years, as provided for in Section 4.2 (a) of the Criminal Procedure Law.”
It stipulates that “a prosecution for a felony must commence within five years after the alleged offenses had been committed.”
Judge Gbeneweleh further ruled that “the prosecution of the defendants is barred by a statute of limitation,” declaring, “the request to dismiss the indictment (charge) is hereby granted and government’s resistance is denied.”
He further declared that the defendants were discharged from further answering to the offenses. Judge Gbeneweleh proceeded to instruct the Sheriff of the court to return the bail bond of the defendants.
Prior to Judge Gbeneweleh’s action, the defense team asked him to dismiss the allegations brought against them, arguing that since their clients were indicted from 2006 to 2007, government had failed to prosecute them, which, according to the lawyers, barred the defendants from answering to the offenses, citing Section 4.2 (a) of the Criminal Procedure Law as their legal backing.
They also argued that government began prosecuting them in February 2015, almost three years beyond the five year statutory period which the lawyers contended was illegal.
However, state lawyers in their counter argument said they were entitled to commence prosecution up to ten years after the commission of the offenses, which is up to May 2017.
They further contended that the General Auditing Commission’s (GAC) findings on which the defendants were charged were not sufficient to commence prosecution.
“We are going to prosecute them after the completion of an independent investigation to confirm that there were enough [grounds] to commence the prosecution,” they said during their argument.
Judge Gbeneweleh in his ruling pointed out that Section 4.2 (a) was clear and unambiguous and could not be subject to any other interpretation or application.
“We therefore disagree with the prosecutors’ argument that it had up to ten years to commence the prosecution,” he noted, adding that “the court says if the legislature had intended to provide the prosecutors with 10 years in which to commence prosecution, it would have provided it under the law. As such, the court does not have any authority to legislate.”
Further to the ruling, Judge Gbeneweleh said, “We also disagree with state lawyers’ argument that it can commence prosecution only after the completion of its investigation.”
According to him, the government had more than one year from April 20 to May 31, 2012, to have conducted its investigation.
“The prosecutors’ reliance on Section 4.3 is also misplaced, because that law does not permit a prosecution of offenses after the expiration of the five year period mandated in Section 4.2 (a),” he emphasized. “It cannot be applied in the instance when the prosecution discovery of the commission of the offenses occurred after the expiration of the five year period.”
Delving into the ruling, the Judge added, “It is not applicable in the case because, prosecution said it had received actual notice of the commission of the offences on April 20, 2011, which was before the expiration of the five year, period in May 2012.”
“Therefore,” he said, “the prosecution should have either obtained an indictment or had the defendants arrested before the end of May 2012, either of which would have commenced the prosecution, as defined by Section 4.7 (A) and 4.7 (B) of the Criminal Procedure Law.”
He went on, “We also disagree with the prosecution that Section 4.4 of the Criminal Procedure Law can be utilized to prosecute the defendants, though Section 4.4 does not permit a prosecution of offenses after the expiration of the five year period mandated by Section 4.2 (a).”
To conclude his ruling, Judge Gbeneweleh said, “Since the government had obtained actual knowledge of the alleged commission of the offenses in 2011, they had more than one year to have commenced the prosecution of the defendants prior to the expiration of the statute of limitation in May 2012.”