A confidential document obtained by the Daily Observer is refuting accusation by Solicitor General, Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus, who claims that it was former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government that initially dropped the charges against the former Managing Director of the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA), Ellen Corkurm and several other individuals including Musa Bility, then board chair.
In Cllr. Cehpus ‘letter addressed to the chairperson of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), Cllr. Ndubuisi Nwabudike, dated February 3, 2020, Cephus justified that his decision to dismiss the case was recommended by former Solicitor General, Cllr. Betty Lamin Blamo.
Cehpus’ communication to the LACC came shortly after he re-ordered the LACC to investigate the case, just days when he had dropped the charges that include economic sabotage, theft of property, criminal conspiracy and misapplication of entrusted property against Corkrum, of which decision the Justice Minister, Frank Musa Dean, claimed that he had no knowledge.
Corkrum was indicted, along with Bility, then chairman of the Board of Directors of LAA; the Monrovia Diaspora Consulting, LLC, through Momar Dieng, a U.S. citizen; and the First International Bank (FIB); and all authorized representatives of the authority.
The First International Bank was indicted for allegedly conspiring with co-defendants Corkrum, Melvin Johnson & Associates, to make an unauthorized transfer of funds in the amount of US$56,750 from the account of the Liberia Airport Authority when Corkrum was the Managing Director.
Cehpus’ action to drop the case was also communicated to Judge Nancy Sammy of Criminal Court ‘C,’ who later granted the request.
In a swift response contained in a document, the former administration (under Ellen Johnson Sirleaf) argued that they were shocked by Cephus’ accusation, describing it as “false and misleading.”
The former government also claimed that the only proceeding where they entered a Nolle Prosequi (dropped charges) was that of the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI).
Court records with this newspaper claimed that FIB (now GN Bank) confessed judgment and restituted the amount of US$56,750 that it had transferred to Melvin Johnson’s United States account at the instance of Ellen Corkrum, and the court also issued a suspended sentence in favor of the FIB.
For LBDI, they pleaded not guilty but later accepted to cooperate with the government and serve as a witness, if the case were to begin.
Further to Cehpus’ letter to the LACC, he alleged that, “A careful review of the records of the case shows that the previous government entered a Nolle Prosequi in favor of a number of defendants involved in this matter prior to our ascendency and we in recent times did the same due to the absence of Madam Corkrum and to avoid being seen as pursuing a selective prosecution.”
The court said, the only basis that LBDI was to cooperate and serve as a witness in the case was for the government to enter nolle prosequi in their favor, which was done.
In the court records, Cllr. Cehpus served as one of several lawyers for then co-defendant, LBDI, at the time the charges against the bank were dropped and he knew about the purpose and object for which the charges were dropped against Cehpus’ client, the LBDI.
“The charges were dropped against the LBDI specifically without prejudice to the government, Dismissal without prejudice means, if LBDI did not cooperate, the government reserved the right to re-file charges,” the document said.
The court’s record also clarified that there was no nolle prosequi (charges dropped) request entered in favor of Musa Bility. Instead, the charges against Bility were dropped by the Criminal Court ‘C’ where they were expected to stand trial, based on a motion filed by Bility’s Lawyer.
Bility’s charges were dropped because his lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the indictment for the government’s failure to prosecute the case within two terms, as provided for under Section 18.2 of the Criminal Procedure Law.
“The government then vigorously resisted Bility’s motion, but the court granted Bility’s motion over the objection of the government,” the former government alleges.
On the issue with Corkrum and Melvin Johnson, the former government claimed that at no time did they drop charges against the two.
“We file a formal complaint against Johnson before the Georgia Bar, where Johnson was a member and requested his extradition along with Corkrum,” the former government argued.
“The indictment against Diaspora Consulting, LCC and Momar Dieng was never dropped,” the government also argued.
On the issue of the former government dropping charges against Corkrum, the court record said that Corkrum, by then, was out of the bailiwick of Liberia filed a motion to dismiss the indictment against her before Criminal Court ‘C’, which was the venue of the matter.
“We vigorously challenged the motion, argued same and the court ruled, denying it,” the former government argued.
Cehpus’ letter also claimed that “we also noticed that a sole source recommendation was made by our predecessor Cllr. Betty Lamin Blamo to hire a US-based firm, Fox Rothschild, to which US$200,000 was paid to Fox Rothschild to have Madam Corkrum brought back to Liberia.
Finally, Cllr, Cehpus argued, “The investigation should take into consideration the legal basis for the former solicitor general Betty Lamin Blamo recommending a sole source bid or selected of Fox Rothschild, what became of the extradition proceedings, if any, among them.”
Also in their response, the former government said they categorically denied knowing Fox Rothschild or any partner or associate of the firm before it was hired or making any recommendation or even an informed suggestion to be hired.
“Even assuming that we did recommend the hiring, which we maintain never did, there is still nothing criminal or wrong about that if the sole-sourcing was justified by reason sufficient to law and the requisite no objection was granted by the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC),” the former administration argued.
According to them, procurement matters in the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), as in all ministries and agencies of government, are handled by the department of administration and not the solicitor general.
In the case of the Fox Rothschild contract, the record showed that it was the Deputy Minister for Administration at the time, who wrote the PPCC to request and there was no objection for the use of the sole source method of procurement.
“The request was granted by the PPCC and the ministers of Finance and Justice subsequently entered into the contract with Fox Rothschild on behalf of the government,” the former government claims.
They also dispelled Cllr. Cehpus’ accusation that US$200,000 was paid to Fox Rothschild, arguing that “the former administration did not pay Fox Rothschild US$200,000 at all.”
They claimed that the agreement provided that Fox Rothschild would be paid at an hourly rate, provided that the firm will bill no more than US$200,000 in aggregate for the services to be provided, claiming, “To the best of my recollection, the invoices submitted by Steven M. Scheebaum (the assigned lawyer), which was paid by the government, did not exceed US$100,000.”
About the issue of Corkrum, the former administration said they thought that Cllr. Cehpus would have carefully looked at the records they left at the ministry.
“The record left behind at the ministry to which you have access, are replete with information as to the existence of a request to the government of the United States for the extradition of Corkrum,” the former government argued to Cllr. Cephus.
They also said that the record at the ministry was clear as to the follow-up work done by Steve Schneebaum, including steps taken against Melvin Johnson to the extent that the Georgia Bar Association, upon a complaint filed on behalf of the government, disbarred Johnson.
“If any language thus falsely implies that we may not have even requested the extradition of Corkrum at all; assuming you did not know of what became of the extradition proceedings, would it not have been prudent for you to have simply asked? Don’t you think we deserved the professional courtesy?” the former government asked Cehpus.
“The office of the Solicitor General in the Ministry of Justice is the custodian of the records in this matter,” the former government told Cephus, adding, “These efforts are clearly designed to evade your own responsibility to divert the attention of the public from responsibility for the decision just made to drop charges against Corkrum even though, as Solicitor general, you had responsibility for such matter.”
They added, “You have instead intentionally elected to unjustly injure our reputation.”
It can be recalled that Corkrum clandestinely left Liberia with the help of some top security personnel that were serving in the Unity Party-led government, who were also staunch confidants of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Corkrum’s escape was precipitated by an indictment by the Grand Jury of Montserrado County in 2013 on charges of economic sabotage, criminal facilitation, conspiracy to defraud the government, and making unauthorized transfers of funds from government accounts.