-Judge Gbeisay of Criminal Court ‘C’ decides on Tuesday, August 26
Its many twist and turns aside, during the final legal arguments in the ongoing case of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) alleged missing L$16 billion banknotes on Wednesday, August 19, at Criminal Court ‘C’ proved a pandora’s box, in part because it uncovered a new constitutional breaches and lapses by both the legislature and former members of the Board of Governors.
The case also exposed serious injustices on the part of the government, while handling the involvement of Charles Sirleaf, deputy governor of the bank and the former Executive Governor, Milton Weeks. Meanwhile, Judge Gbeisay on Wednesday announced next Tuesday, August 26, as the date for the deliberation of his judgment.
Initially, both Weeks and Sirleaf was charged with the commission of the multiple crimes that include economic sabotage, but the government chose to drop Sirleaf from answering to the charges and left Weeks and his-codefendants, the bank’s former Board of Governors, to bear the burden. It is the fact that the government is clothed with the legal authority to drop charges against anyone it earlier accused of committing it.
In her argument on Wednesday, Cllr. Gloria Musu Scott, one of the defense lawyers and also former senator for Maryland County, pointed to the constitutional violation of the lawmakers during the printing of the controversial L$10 billion banknotes, at as the center of the prosecution of Weeks and his co-defendants. Cllr. Scott, also a former Chief Justice of Liberia, based her argument on Article 35 of the 1986 Constitution which, according to her, the lawmakers breached.
The article provides that: “(1) Each bill or resolution which shall have passed both Houses of the Legislature shall, before it becomes law, be laid before the President for [her] approval. If [she] grants approval, it shall become law. If the President does not approve such bill or resolution, [she] shall return it, with [her] objections, to the House in which it originated. In so doing, the President may disapprove of the entire bill or resolution or any item or items thereof. This veto may be overridden by the re-passage of such bill, resolution or item thereof by a veto of two-thirds of the members in each House, in which case it shall become law. If the President does not return the bill or resolution within twenty days after the same shall have been laid before [her], it shall become law in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the Legislature by adjournment prevents its return. (2) No bill or resolution shall embrace more than one subject which shall be expressed in its title.”
Prior to the printing of the L$10 billion, the government claimed that, though the lawmakers were aware of the printing of the money, the board of governors unilaterally passed a board resolution on April 28, 2016, without receiving any authorization from both the House and Senate to print the money. The government also argued that the board of governors failed to follow some of the instructions contained in a communication dated 2017, addressed to the CBL before the printing of the money.
This time, without the intervention of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the lawmakers mandated the board of governors to inform them (lawmakers) about the denomination of the banknotes and the coins before proceeding with the printing of the L$10 billion as was done in the case of the printing of the L$5 billion by then Deputy Governor Charles Sirleaf. In her contrary argument, Cllr. Scott said, the lawmakers, themselves were in compete violation of the Article 35 of the Constitution, when in fact that article called for the involvement of the President in the passage of any bill or resolution.
“They violated the constitution by only writing to the board of governors to print the money,” Cllr. Scott said. “Then who is the criminal?” she wondered. “The lawmakers also facilitated the printing of the money, if it were done illegally. Where is the money?” Scott asked the prosecution. “The lawmakers benefited from the money. They are using it today and it is in most of [their pockets],” Scott argued. Adding,”They are enjoying the old and the new money and only want to damage the good reputation of these highly trained professional people.”
In counter argument, Solicitor General, Cllr. Sayma Cyrenius Cephus, admitted that the money was in the government officers packets, but it was the money that was legally printed and not the excess of L$2.6 billion that is believed to be accounted for by the board of governors. “There was no authorization from the legislature and the defendants only relied on fake board resolution to print the money of which they pocketed the L$2.6 billion out of the L$10 billion,” Cllr, Cephus argued. “We proved our case that they used fake certificate to print the L$10 billion, of which the L$2.6 billion is now unaccounted for.”
On the issue of injustice between Sirleaf and Weeks, the state prosecutors stated that both the Houses of Representatives and Senate, through a joint resolution, granted approval to the CBL and a contract was executed with co-defendant Crane Currency for the amount of US$5,210,000 for L$5 billion to be printed. Though the state prosecutors claimed that the approval for the printing of the L$5 billion new Liberian bank notes was granted by the Legislature on May 17, 2016, Co-Defendant Charles Sirleaf had earlier executed and entered into a contract with co-defendant Crane Currency on May 6, 2016, 11 days before the approval by the Legislature. While, in the case of Weeks, the state lawyers claimed the board of governors mandated defendant Weeks to enter into a contract on June 12, 2017 with Crane Currency to print L$10 billion banknotes at the cost of US$10,121,689.20, one month and seven days later, before they received the July 19, 2017 communication [from the Legislature] for the approval of the printing of the money.
In their argument, the defense team said the incident was similar, because the pair entered into the contract with Crane Currency even before getting the legislative approval. “What is the difference between the Weeks and Sirleaf’s action”? the defense team asked. “They both entered into the contract before getting the legislature approval and so, why should only one person be exonerated and the other prosecuted? This is injustice and because the other is Sirleaf,” the defense lawyer said.