Court Holds Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Contempt

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The continuous absence of lawyers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOF) at the Commercial Court for the hearing of their case yesterday was enough for Judge Chan-chan A. Paegar to charge the Ministry for disrespecting the court.

Judge Paegar took the decision immediately after lawyers for Semah Group of Companies, seeking over US$4.8 million in damages from Winrock International and USAID, both US-based entities, for breach of contract, asked him to do so.

The Ministry was mandated by Judge Paegar on numerous occasions to ensure that the two US institutions appear before the court to answer to Semah’s allegation, but their lawyers have failed to comply with the court’s order.

Taking the action yesterday, Judge Paegar granted Semah’s legal team’s request to hold them in contempt for continuous non-appearance.

Judge Paegar further warned that the Ministry should appear before him today to show reason why they should not be held in contempt for their failure to attend his scheduled hearing, although they received and signed notices asking them to do so.

The Commercial Court judge did not mention any punishment for disrespecting the court’s order; instead, he instructed his clerk to again communicate with the Ministry so that they can attend their contempt hearing, which he scheduled for today.

The case emerged after Semah Group of Companies filed a lawsuit against Winrock International and USAID at the Commercial Court for breach of contract.

In its lawsuit, Semah is seeking US$4.5 million in general damages “for psychological effect and disparagement” and an additional US$379K in specific damages and “total contract price.”

In the lawsuit, Semah Group stated that it entered into a contractual agreement with the respondent on May 1, 2014, for the construction of a biomass electricity pilot project.

Semah further indicated that the initial contract was valued at US$296,535.56 on July 18, 2014, noting that seven modifications to the original contract were initiated and effected with an additional cost of US$82.5K, thus increasing the contract value to US$379,043.37.

The document further contended that the duration of the initial contract was from May 1, 2014 to September 30, 2014, but that due to the Ebola crisis in Liberia, including quarantines and closure of borders on September 29, 2014, the said contract was extended to October 14, 2014.

Semah said to their surprise, the defendants breached the contractual agreement by advertising the same contract for the construction of the Kwendin Biomass Project in violation of the contractual agreement between them.

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