-With conditional six months to restitute significant portion of the US$1,147,656.35 stolen out of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) Retirement Funds
Criminal Court ‘C’ Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay on Thursday, April 23 sentenced two of the three defendants that include former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai and former deputy minister for administration Joseph P. Johnson to two years in prison each for stealing US$1,147,656.35 out of the account of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) at the Ecobank- Liberia.
The remaining co-defendant, former comptroller, James Nyumah Dorkor, received six-month jail sentence.
Meanwhile, the court suspended the prison sentence on Thursday with a condition that they would restitute significant portion of the money within the period of six-months and pay the balance within another six-months.
The AFL’s account was opened under the signatures of Co-defendant Brownie J. Samukai, Jr., former Minister of National Defense as “signatory A” and Defendant J. Nyumah Dorkor, former Comptroller of the Ministry of National Defense as “Signatory B” and Defendant Joseph P. Johnson, former Deputy Minister for Administration, Ministry of Defense also as “signatory A.”
In his sentencing ruling, Gbeisay said both co-defendants, Samukai and Johnson may likely escape their two-years prison term only if they agree to pay significant amount of that money within a period of six-months, even-though the matter is pending appeal before the Supreme Court, shortly after the defense lawyers rejected the initial guilty verdict against them by the court.
Gbeisay continued: “Samukai and Johnson are hereby sentenced to common prison for a period of two (2) years each and that the said sentence is suspended, provided they elected to restitute the whole or substantial amount of the judgment sum within six (6) months and the balance stipulated to be restituted within 12 months, as of the ruling, failure which they shall serve the full two years.”
For Dorkor, whose guilty verdict is challenged also at the Supreme Court, Gbeisay ruled that Dorkor is going to get six (6) months imprisonment due to his role in the commission of the crimes and his physical health condition.
“If Dorkor elected to reserve the right to the privacy of his health status, this court considers his physical condition and his minor role in the commission of the crimes, [he] is hereby sentenced to six (6) months imprisonment, which six months sentence is suspended, provided he restitute his share of the money in whole or in substantial part within six (6) months and file stipulation to pay the balance in 12 months,” adding, “failure of which he shall serve the full six(6) months in common prison and make restitution.”
Further to the sentencing, Gbeisay explained that under Chapters 50.5 and 15, and Section 15.4 of the Penal Law, among others, provides that “misuse of public money [is] a felony of the first degree with a maximum prison term of ten (10) years, while theft of property, in which the value of the property exceeds US$50,000 is a second degree felony with a maximum prison term five (5) years respectively.”
However, Gbeisay said, since the minimum prison term of imprisonment is not stated in the law for theft of property. “It [is] presumably left within the sound discretion of the trial courts, giving due consideration to the fact and circumstances of the commission of the crimes and the defendants’ previous records.”
Judge Gbeisay’s sentence resulted after the Probation Service Division at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) presented a 14-day of pre-sentencing investigation report, which established that there is no previous criminal record against any of the defendants.
Initially, Gbeisay had adjourned the three defendants guilty of the commission of the crimes that ranged from misuse of public money, theft of property and criminal conspiracy respectively.
But lawyers representing the accused rejected the sentencing a as well the guilty verdict and subsequently announced an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Earlier, the government had alleged that, of the total amount of US$1,259.462, Co-defendant Samukai with criminal mind personally authorized and co-signed along with defendant Dorkor, a check for US$852,860, withdrew, transferred and intentionally expended same basically on activities that were already provided for under the National Budget of the government, such as AFL operations.
In addition, Samukai illegally paid US$50,000 as death benefits to the families of the late General Abdurrahman, who did not contribute anything to the fund while serving AFL as Chief of Staff; that money was misapplied. In the case of Co-defendant Johnson, the document claimed, authorized and co-signed a check along with co-defendant Dorkor, and caused the withdrawal and subsequent transfer of the sum of US$406,602 from the AFL Pension Account, contrary to the intended purpose of the funds which was for supplementary pension package to personnel of the AFL.
Further, all operational funds from the AFL-pension account were authorized to be transferred into the account of the Ministry of National Defense, except the amount of US$16,000, which was paid directly to one Joseph Gegeh to be identified.
“As part of the collusion, all authorization letters directly resulting in the commission of the crime of theft of property by deception was done by Co-defendant Dorkor.
At the same time, on the 3rd day of the month of October 2017, former AFL Deputy Minister for Administration, Johnson, criminally and intentionally authorized Ecobank Liberia Limited to change the “AFL-Pension account title to AFL Morale and Welfare account” without any evidence, consultation, and administrative decision and without the consent of the AFL High Command,” the court’ document alleges.
The indictment further alleges that at diverse times during the periods of July 1, 2009, an account named and styled “AFL Pension Saving Account” at ECOBANK Liberia Limited with account number 1092-522-22-19 was opened under the signatures of Co-defendant Samukai as “signatory A” and Dorkor, as “Signatory B” while, Johnson was also “A”.
The soldiers’ salaries which were deducted between the period of July 2009 up to, and including October 2017, the totaled US$1,943,971.99, representing the combined deductions from the salaries of AFL soldiers deposited into AFL account.
The deductions were made on the basis of ranks. State prosecutors claimed that the defendants misused US$1,259,462.
The said account was based upon salaries deductions and was established to provide benefits for wounded AFL soldiers, families of dead AFL soldiers and was intended to supplement the pension package to personnel of AFL upon retirement from active service, the indictment further alleges.