Judge Gbeisay postpones hearing
Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay of Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice was forced on Monday, March 2 to suspend the much-waited testimonies of former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai, after a medical report established that two of the co-defendants, Joseph Johnson, Deputy Minister for Administration and Nyumah Dorbor, Comptroller General, needed serious health attention.
In his postponement justification, Judge Gbeisay said, “For Dorbor, he seems to be a serious pressure patient despite the fact that he is to take the witness stand to testify is enough to carry his pressure up.”
“As much as this court wants to expeditiously handle this matter for the public interest and the end of justice, the postponement asked for on medical ground in favour of Dorbor and Johnson cannot be ignored by this court, and therefore, the request is hereby granted,” Gbeisay further ruled.
Samukai, together with Dorbor and Johnson, are being tried for misapplying US$1.9 million that was said to have been withdrawn and used outside of the purpose for which the “Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) Pension Account” was established.
Johnson and Dorkor’s application to have them sought further medical care was seriously challenged by the government lawyers (prosecution), who contended that Samukai is in good health and, as such, he should take the witness stand to testify in the absence of his two co-defendants, which argument was later rejected by Judge Gbeisay.
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, of which the defense lawyers’ request for postponement was accepted based on medical ground.
Further Gbeisay said, “Under the practice and procedures in our jurisdiction, the defendants were jointly charged and as such, the law does not permit the court to proceed with the testimony of one of them in the absence of the other two,” which argument was seriously resisted by the government lawyers (prosecution).
Though Gbeisay did not listen to the prosecution, their argument was that since Samukai who is in good health should take the witness stand to testify in the absence of the two defendants so that the medical issue does not delay further hearing of the case that actually want to see if the defendants can exonerate themselves from the accusation.
Despite the testimony of AFL’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Geraldine George that Samukai and his co-defendants did not use the money for their personal needs and that President George Weah assured them that he would pay back the expended amount, the prosecution continues to press for the defendants’ testimonies.
Gbeisay judgment further said, he was granting the medical report but with modification,” That the report coming from whatever medical institution should be submitted and signed by qualified and competent medical practitioners that would clearly state his or her signature qualification and current license number.”
Again, the prosecution argued that the absence of Dorbor and Johnson due to medical reasons cannot negate the qualification of Samukai to take the witness stand to testify.
“This is not a ground for this court to grant the application,” the government lawyers argued.
They further contended that if the defendants were to be allowed to testify on Monday, March 2, none of them would have been in the court to listen to the other defendants’ testimonies, therefore, the request to postpone the case on medical ground has no basis to be granted by Judge Gbeisay.
Samukai had repeatedly admitted to the payment transaction, arguing that said payment was made with the approval of then Commander-In-Chief of the AFL, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. However, the current government is now claiming that the transaction was far from the purpose of the account, named and styled: “Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) Pension Account” at Ecobank-Liberia.
Samukai had repeated that the decisions reached between former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and President George Manneh Weah, during series of meetings held together between January 13 and 17, 2018 and with the leadership of the AFL, was that the incoming government would refund all funds spent from the AFL Welfare Fund.
Samukai also argues that on January 17, 2018, President George Weah, then President-elect, held a meeting at his residence in Rehab, Paynesville, with him along with senior leadership of the AFL, where they discussed the outstanding issue of refund of the AFL Welfare Fund, and President Weah confirmed and reiterated in that meeting that he and Madam Sirleaf had met and discussed the situation and agreed to refund all money spent on the AFL from Welfare Fund during the passage of the 2018 budget.
Despite Samukai’s explanation and documentary evidence established between the former President Sirleaf and President Weah, that from the 2018 budget the government would refund the money, the prosecution is persistent in prosecuting the former Defense Minister and now requesting the AFL Generals to testify in the matter.