Defendants Suffer Major Setback in PUP US$6M Case

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An important request that would have exonerated four dismissed managers of Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and a senior surveyor of the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy on trial for misuse of sixty-one Private Use Permits (PUPs) in an amount of  US$6m has been rejected by Judge Peter W.Gbeneweleh of Criminal Court ‘C.

The defense counsels’ request was intended to cancel the testimonies of the prosecution’s key witness, James Dorbor Jallah and a report of the Presidential Special Independent Investigation Body (SIIB) which recommendation charged the dismissed Managing Director, Moses Wogbeh and four other co-defendants.

Witness Jallah was the chairman of the SIIB and his recommendation was one of the key reasons for which the Liberian government charged the defendants for their individual roles in the illegal issuing of PUPs that authorized several logging companies to operate on 2.5 million hectares of farmland in five of the 15 counties.

They have denied the claim.

They contended in their request to cancel prosecution witness Jallah’s testimonies and his committee’s report that the committee failed to question the accused during the administrative investigation of their rights to be informed of the nature of the investigation, their right to legal counsel, their rights to remain silent and that whatever statement made by them would be used in a criminal prosecution.

In Jallah’s testimonies, he admitted that during their investigations with the defendants, his committee failed to meet those legal requirements, which the defense team later used to seek the court’s approval to have them cancelled from being part of the prosecution’s evidence against them.

Section 2.2  of the Criminal Procedure Law, provides that “a police officer or other employee of this country shall not interrogate, interview, examine or otherwise make inquires of a person accused or suspected of an offense, or request any statement from him, including the confession of guilt without informing him of the nature of the offense for which  he is accused or suspected; the right to a counsel why making any statement or admission; the right to remain silent and that any statement made will be used against him.”

Denying the defense team’s request, Judge Gbeneweleh explained that the defense did not object to the making of the SIIB investigative report, which he said, was testified to, identified and confirmed by the prosecution witness.

“Granted that the defendants were entitled to legal counsel during the committee’s investigation, the defense team failed and neglected to object to the report, but allowed it as one of the evidences by the prosecution to the court,” Judge Gbeneweleh said.

The most unfortunate part of the request is that the defense team raised it after it had cross examined the witness on his statement and the entire report and the court had allowed it to be part of the prosecution’s evidence.

Judge Gbeneweleh further ruled that the “SIIB investigative report cannot be stricken out on grounds that it lacks probative value as argued by the defense team on grounds that it is the juror in the jury trial or the judge in a bench trial as in this case that has the prerogative to determine the weight, credibility and probative value of the said report.”

According to him, the mandate of the committee was not to conduct a criminal investigation that fraudulent activities were uncovered at the FDA, stressing, “The SIIB recommends to the Ministry of Justice and the LACC for further investigation.”

“The defendants before the committee were not accused for the commission of crimes which were subject for the investigation. The statue provides that an accused for the commission of criminal offense shall be given the right to be represented by a legal counsel, the right to remain silent and that whatever statement made by them will be used against them in a court of law in a criminal proceeding,” he added.

 The case continues.

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