FIBank US$4M Theft Case, 4 Former Employees Plead Not Guilty

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Four of the 10 former employees of the First International Bank (FIB) pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges of money laundering, theft of property and criminal conspiracy brought against them by their employers during the trial in Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice.
Africanus Freeman together with Robert Cummings, Jermain Tegli and Aurelie Tamba’s not guilty pleas came immediately after their indictment was read to them for the first time in two years in open court, thereby shifting the burden of proof on the prosecutors to establish the guilt during the trial.
Granting the separate trial request, Judge Peter Gbeneweleh declared that the submission of the prosecutors for separate trial for the four defendants to which their respective counsels interposed no objection was granted and since the rest of the co-defendants are at large their case was also proceeded with as assigned.
It was also surprising to note yesterday that state lawyers did not raise any objection to a request filed by their legal counsels to have the accused tried separately from the six co-defendants believed to be on the run.
Those absconding, the court said, include; Angie Brooks, Kebbeh Kulah Klark, Richard Gboyah, Beyan Dadzi and Victoria Yakubu.
Co-defendant Ngadi Warity, was not seen in court yesterday prompting Judge Gbeneweleh to instruct his sheriff to serve a writ of arrest with an indictment on Warity, and have her arrested and brought before the court to answer to the multiple offenses against her as contained in the indictment.
In a swift, dramatic motion, Judge Gbeneweleh went ahead to set aside the bail bond that was secured on behalf of the accused by Sky Insurance Company to prevent them from being incarcerated, which was also intended to ensure their day to day appearance in court whenever they were needed for their case.
Setting aside their bail, the Criminal Court Judge announced that the defendants’ bail bond was withdrawn following their continued absence despite efforts made by the court and their respective legal counsels to have them appear for the hearing.
He went on to instruct his clerk “ to issue a writ of arrest with a commitment and place same in the hands of the sheriff to arrest and detain them at the Monrovia Central Prison where they would remain pending the hearing and determination of their case so that they cannot escape the bailiwick of this court.”
Judge Gbeneweleh’s action also came after lawyers representing the accused informed the court that they had made substantial efforts to locate their clients without success.
Another drama at the court was when the state lawyers asked the court to allow them to make some modification to the indictment that was already read to the defendants, who later pleaded not guilty.
They explained that they made a mistake in the indictment by using economic sabotage, instead of money laundering, and asked the court’s approval to modify the charges.
Defending their decision, they cited Sub Title (1) Section 15.80 Sub. Paragraph, (a, b and c) which they said, related to economic sabotage and that the modification should reflect chapter 15, section 15.2, of the anti-money laundering and terrorist funding Act of 2012.
They explained that the act was approved April 29, 2013, published by Authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Liberia on May 2, the same year.
They went on to argue that “the provision supports count one of the indictments as opposed to the provision reflected by commission of said offence.”
In counter argument, the defense team said that the procedure adopted by the prosecution was strange to amend the indictment why they have commenced with the trial.
They further argued that if the prosecutors wanted to amend the indictment, they should have to first prepare a formal withdrawal of the document to give his clients the opportunity to know about their changes.
However, Judge Gbeneweleh granted the prosecution request to change the initial definition of economic sabotage to money laundering.

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