Defense witness Samukai testifies
Defense first witness on Monday, March 9 told Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice that all of the payments made out of the “Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) Pension Account” at the Ecobank-Liberia was authorized by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was then the Commander-In-Chief (CIC) of the AFL.
Former Defense Minister, Brownie J. Samukai, together with co-defendants Joseph Johnson, Deputy Minister for Administration and Nyumah Dorbor, Comptroller General, are being tried for allegedly misapplying US$1.9 million that was said to have been withdrawn and used outside of the purpose for which the “Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) Pension Account” was established.
The account was established in 2009 as a compulsory contributory savings fund, which deducted salaries from all ranks of the AFL to serve as a supplementary pension benefit to provide assistance to wounded soldiers and to families of deceased soldiers.
In his testimony, Defendant Samukai said all of the disbursements made out of the pension scheme received written authorization from then CIC, former President Sirleaf.
Samukai further testified that another payment from the AFL’s Pension scheme was based on written communication and authorization by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
To that testimony on Monday, the defense team asked Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay to summon the Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to produce the original copies of those authorization letters, which request was immediately accepted by the judge.
Samukai named Operation Restore Hope and Operation White Shield as some of those issues for which authorization was made for payment.
Giving an overview of the pension scheme, Samukai said, the exercise began when he and the AFL high command had a series of strategic meetings where they agreed on the establishment of the scheme.
By that period, Samukai said, the government was faced with financial constraints that the budgetary allotment made to both the Ministry of Defense and the AFL could not solve some of the major problems being faced by the soldiers like sickness and death.
After that meeting, Samukai claimed that he briefed President Sirleaf at the time, who herself endorsed the recommendation without any objection.
Samukai also said that President Sirleaf instructed him to pay US$50,000 from the pension funds as gratuity to Hajji Fantima Wali, widow of the late Nigerian General Abdurrahman, which the prosecution team claims was wasteful spending because, according to the government’s lawyers, the late Abdurrahman was not a contributor to that account and, as such, his family should not have benefited from money that was deducted from the salaries of soldiers of the AFL for that purpose.
“Because of the financial constraints being faced by the government, President Sirleaf authorized me to withdraw money from the funds as pre-deployment of AFL’s soldiers for the Mali mission,” Samukai claimed.
As the case continues, it is not clear whether or not the defense team will request the court to allow the former President to appear and testify.