Genuine concerns for rule of law or settling of scores?
Under the watchful eyes of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, several high-profile defendants in corruption cases were set free without the government being given the opportunity to prove their charges in court, particularly Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice where most of the high profile cases were dismissed for lack of evidence.
Those developments raised questions whether criminal indictments of public officials were driven by genuine concerns for the rule of law or the settling of scores.
Some of those accused, the president claimed, stole millions of United States dollars from the country. Others were not forwarded to court although reports from various bodies of inquiry like the Dunn Commission, had pointed fingers of culpability to certain individuals including President Sirleaf’s brother-in law, Estrada Bernard, and a close confidante, Finda Kromah. This was a case involving US$600,000.
President Sirleaf had said at the time that she was forwarding all the documents in the case to the Anti Corruption Commission for further investigation. She furthered that ECOBANK would have also been requested to submit all documentation in the case. In response to inquires from journalists on the matter, President Sirleaf had this to say:
“The third serious one is the one relating to this US$600,000. You know that they had the expert group hired by the Commission and they asked all those mentioned to make their computers available to the experts.
“The computer in my house was made available. In the course of their looking through the hard drive, they found a message written to ECOBANK to one Finda Kromah talking about a US$600,000 advance on transaction.
“Because Mr. Bernard lives in my house and uses it and because they saw other personal messages, they asked him, ‘can you explain this?’ He answered back legally like a lawyer…’I don’t know this person. I have use to this email but so do many other people who come into our home. What is this all about?’
“Finda Kromah is a financial consultant. She worked with me in the United Nations for years. She came to Liberia for my 70th birthday celebration; she lived in my home for three nights before she returned.
“I have asked her and she will be sending the Anti-Corruption Commission all the documentation. ECOBANK will be asked to do the same thing, in keeping with the recommendation for further investigation, and I think they will find out in keeping with their investigation that that transaction has nothing to do with Liberia.”
The case, however, appeared to have died naturally as the Anti Corruption Commission never took up the case. It is unclear whether it was due to presidential interference or disinterest on the part of the Commission. However, the development (non action by LACC) appeared to have created a distinct impression on the public that the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission(LACC) had been compromised.
More besides, President Sirleaf is about to turn over to President-elect George Weah, but leaving behind several unresolved corruption cases, like the one with former managing director of the National Port Authority (NPA) Matilda W. Parker and her Comptroller Christiana Paelay, as well as the Global Witness alleged bribery reports linking several past and former public officials including former House Speaker Alex Tyler and Grand Cape Mount County Senator Varney Sherman.
In the case of Matilda Parker, informed sources told the Daily Observer that the monies allegedly embezzled by Ms. Parker was actually diverted on orders from above and applied to the purchase of Unity Party campaign materials for the 2011 elections in which President Sirleaf was seeking a 2nd term of office. Sources also say that President Sirleaf’s interest in the case was so overriding to the extent that she sent text messages to judges threatening “war” between the Judiciary and Executive if Matilda Parker was touched.
But Parker is said to have later aroused the ire of the President when she allegedly refused to append her signature citing flaws in the Dangote Concession Agreement among which was a provision for the construction of a cement processing facility in the Freeport of Monrovia. Parker is said to have expressed concern about environmental hazards which, according to sources, were not addressed in the concession agreement. She was later removed from her position.
Whatever the case, Parker has since been relieved of her post and it has been almost one year since she was criminally charged by state prosecutors based on findings of an ‘investigation’ conducted by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC).
She, along with comptroller Christiana Paelay, were charged in 2016 on grounds that she authorized payment in the amount of US$800,000 to an unknown company for the removal of wreck from the barbor basin at the Greenville Port in Sinoe County as well as for security assessment, which were not done.
The case was suspended when then Criminal Court ‘C’ Judge A. Blamo Dixon denied the application of prosecution lawyers to disband the jury on grounds of tampering and exposure; an appeal was filed before then Justice in Chambers Associate Justice Jamesetta H. Wolokollie on February 19, 2016 by state lawyers. But Justice Wolokolie overruled Judge Blamo’s decision and upheld the prosecution’s application to disband the jury. But the case was never resumed.
In another instance, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in early 2017 ordered an inquiry into London AIM-listed Sable Mining’s unsuccessful attempt to acquire an iron ore concession in northern Liberia after the watchdog group Global Witness accused several former and past public officials of wrongdoing.
Some of those accused were House speaker Alex Tyler; then chairman of Sirleaf’s Unity Party Varney Sherman; Deputy Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy, Ernest C.B. Jones; Richard Tolbert, former National Investment Commission chairman; Eugene Shannon, former Minister of Land, Mines and Energy, among others.
They are accused of having used their positions to amend Liberia’s Public Procurement and Concessions Law that would give the company an advantage to mine the Wologizi Mountain in Lofa County.
Prosecution of the accused officials was done under the auspices of a Special Presidential Task Force led by Jonathan Fonati Koffa, himself an ex convict who once served jail time in the U.S. after conviction for embezzlement.
Koffa, who is now Representative-elect from Grand Kru County, is said by sources to have received payment of more than US$1 million for his prosecutorial services although he never secured a single conviction. According to one of the accused, the rather botched trial was more about witch hunting than about the rule of law.
The Daily Observer is now pleased to give a break-down of particular high-profile cases that were dismissed including those prosecuted by President Sirleaf’s Ministry of Justice, but which she lost for lack of evidence.
In 2016, former Commerce Minister Miatta Beysolow and former Liberia Refinery Petroleum Company head Nelson Williams were accused of allegedly depriving government of US$5,764,110.84, which is a portion of US$13,083,350 from proceeds of a Japanese Oil Grant to Liberia.
Their charges against Beysolow and Williams were dismissed by Criminal Court ‘C’ on grounds that the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission’s investigative report, which served as a basis for the indictment, was erroneous and defective. Government had claimed that the act was committed in 2011.
Clemenceau Urey, former National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) chairman and nine other former NOCAL Board Members, officials and others connected with the 52nd National Legislature were charged with multiple crimes, which included “economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy and bribery” brought against them by state prosecutors.
Interestingly, in 2015, the court dismissed the matter for reasons based on the state’s failure 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.
GOL claimed that those individuals, between the periods of May 2006 to May 2007, allegedly engaged in solicitation of payments and receipt of money for the ratification by the 52nd Legislature of oil contracts entered into by NOCAL and several oil companies.
The amount involved was US$120,400.
Others allegedly involved were NOCAL Board Members Cllr. Stephen B. Dunbar, Jr., Peter B. Jallah Jr., Dr. Evelyn Kandakai and Albert T. Chie, who is now Senator and Senate Pro Tempore.
Others were NOCAL’s former CEO, Dr. Fodee Kromah; Fulton Reeves, Comptroller; Timothy G. Wiapiah, former Senior Accountant; Alomiza Barr Ennos, former member of the 52nd Legislature; and Senate Secretary J. Nanborlor Singbe, Sr.
When he was summarily replaced by the President’s son Robert Sirleaf, NOCAL Board Chair Urey, according to sources, left US$31 million in NOCAL’s accounts. That money has since disappeared under the watch of then Board Chairman Robert Sirleaf. When questioned by journalists, President Sirleaf declared “I take responsibility,” although there is no evidence on record of her restitution of the amount.
In 2008, during President Sirleaf’s first term of office, Rep. Edwin Snowe, Senator R. Divine, and others were indicted for allegedly stealing millions from the Liberian people. But when the case went to trial, Snowe, Devine and Bryant were acquitted by the jury. The state (Ministry of Justice) lost because, according to lawyers who followed the case, their star witnesses were all indictees from the National Transitional Legislative Assembly (NTLA)!
In 2009, the late Harry Greaves, former managing director of LPRC, was fired by the president for bribery in the LPRC Zakhem contract. Greaves’ firing was predicated on a report by the Justice Minister (Christina Tah), who determined that Greaves committed bribery in the Zakhem contract, but he was never put on trial for corruption.
According to sources, Greaves had expressed disappointment in President Sirleaf’s handling of the matter and had threatened to provide full disclosure on what he at the time alleged were behind the scenes closed-door maneuverings by President Sirleaf involving millions of dollars.
Greaves was, however, later found dead on a local beach in Monrovia. Following official inquest, the Government of Liberia announced to a suspecting and unbelieving populace that Greaves died as a result of drowning.
In 2013, the state indicted Musa Bility, the former Board Chair of the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) along with several executives of the LAA, including its former managing director Ellen Cockrum, for their alleged involvement in siphoning over US$500,000 from the coffers of the entity.
In 2015, Criminal Court ‘C’ dismissed the charges of economic sabotage brought against Musa Bility by state prosecutors. The court said the government for two succeeding court terms had failed to proceed with the prosecution of Bility, who it had indicted with multiple crimes, including economic sabotage since 2013.
Further to the indictment, government claimed that Bility and Cockrum, who were signatories to the account of the LAA maintained with the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI), criminally conspired with co-defendant Diaspora Consulting represented by Dieng and defrauded the state by making unauthorized transfers of funds amounting to US$269,000 from the LAA account.
The question now remains whether these failed prosecutions were indeed motivated by President Sirleaf’s genuine concerns for the rule of law or whether they were all about settling scores and part of a window dressing show intended to lull international concerns about rampant corruption under her watch during the 12 years of her reign as Africa’s first democratically elected female President.