-As Judge Gbeisay passes guilty verdict
Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay of Criminal Court ‘C’ on last Tuesday pronounced a guilty verdict on three of five counts against former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai and two of his co-defendants, Joseph P. Johnson, former Deputy Minister for Administration and James Nyumah Dorkor, former Comptroller of the Ministry of Defense.
He later ordered the defendants to restitute the amount of USD$687,656.35 to the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) Pension Saving Account and US$ 460,000 to the government of Liberia’s account, totaling US$1, 147,656.35. In his judgment on Tuesday, March 24, Judge Gbeisay dismissed charges of economic sabotage and money laundering on grounds of lack of sufficient evidence to convict the accused. “Therefore, both charges are hereby ordered dismissed”, the Judge declared.
Meanwhile, the criminal court judge has ruled that the sentence will be announced pending pre-sentence investigation in obedience to chapter 31, section 31.5 of the criminal procedure law. He declared, “the clerk of this court is, therefore, hereby ordered to communicate with the probation service of Montserrado County to proceed to conduct a pre-sentence investigation of the defendants herein and report to this court in 15 days as of today’s date.”
But lawyers representing the accused rejected the guilty verdict and subsequently announced an appeal to the Supreme Court. Initially, the government had indicted defendants Samukai, Johnson, and Dorkor for multiples crimes including theft of property, criminal conspiracy, economic sabotage, misuse of public money and money laundering.
Judge Gbeisay further ruled that the defendants were guilty of the crimes of theft of property, misuse of public money and criminal conspiracy.Further, the Judge said from the analysis of testimonies on both sides, the defense, and prosecution, it is crystal clear that the defendants did not deny the withdrawal and use of the AFL funds, but instead justified their actions on two counts.
In one justification, Judge Gbeisay said, the accused maintained that they acted in line with the Constitution and relevant laws, and the other, they acted on the orders of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and current President George Weah, adding that it was based on this commitment that President Weah made an initial payment of US$460,000.
According to him (Judge Gbeisay), the AFL pension account is private money owned by the AFL personnel and that the Minister of Defense was correct in making himself and his deputy and comptroller as signatories to the funds, in that the AFL is under the umbrella of the Ministry of Defense who administers the affairs of the AFL.
The AFL’s account was opened under the signatures of Co-defendant J. Brownie 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.”
“As such,” the judge ruled, “defendant Samukai is by law a fiduciary of the AFL.”
However, Gbeisay further ruled, “it is of the considered opinion that Samukai breached and abused his fiduciary duty to the men and women of the AFL when he selected to misuse their funds for purposes order than intended.”
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.