Four dismissed managers of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), including its former managing director, Moses Wogbeh, and a senior surveyor of the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy yesterday lost their appeal to drop the charges against them. They were subsequently ordered to take the witness stand to testify in a US$6m Private Use Permit (PUP) case.
The Criminal Court “C’ at the Temple of Justice rejected the defendants’ appeal and confirmed the testimonies of prosecution’s witness, James Dorbor Jallah, Chairman of the Special Independent Investigation Body (SIIB) , whose findings led to the charges against the defendants.
Prosecutors charged the four defendants with economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy, forgery or counterfeiting, obtaining, deceptive writings and obstruction of government by public servant in connection with the much publicized PUP saga.
The PUP authorized commercial logging operations on nearly 2.5 million hectares of farmland in the country. The government claimed the defendants had illegally issued 61 PUPs valued at US$6 million.
According to Wednesday’s ruling, Judge Peter Gbeneweleh said, “a careful perusal of the testimonies before the court showed the role played by each of the defendants in the commission of the offences and that the land rental fees prescribed by our controlling statute will be applied by the court in the determination of the actual land rental fee due government.”
He added “the presiding judge is a jury of the fact and a judge of the law, and would like the defendants to testify, if they so desire to disprove the allegations as contained in the indictment and the testimonies of the prosecution before determining the general issues in the case.”
Judge Gbeneweleh denied and dismissed the request for judgment of acquittal and assigned the case for hearing today Thursday, June 4, at 9 a.m.
Before yesterday’s decision, the defense counsel asked the court to drop the charges against their clients, arguing among other things that the evidences produced by prosecutors’ witnesses were not sufficient to convict the defendants of the commission of the offences and that prosecution speculated the US$6 million figure on the PUP.
The defense further contended that the witnesses contradicted each other in their testimonies and that the report of the SIIB was not signed and their clients were not represented by legal counsel during their interview and investigation.
It was based on these allegations that the defense team was seeking the court’s approval to drop the matter and not to allow any of the defendants to testify in the matter.
Surprisingly, their request was made after the state rested with the production of oral and documentary evidences and it was the time for the defendants to take the stand when they filed their request.
In counter arguments, prosecution said all their witnesses proved the role each of the defendants played in the commission of the alleged crimes and that they did not speculate the US$6million.
Prosecution further contended that the evidence produced during the trial was sufficient to support the commission of the defendants.