-With Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbiesay reserving his ruling
The failure of both the prosecution and the defense teams to ensure the testimony of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf during their production of witnesses and documentary evidence in the ongoing US$1.9 million case took center stage in their final arguments on Thursday, March 19, at Criminal Court ‘C.’
Former President Sirleaf is at the center of the case, from the standpoint that former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai repeatedly stated that she instructed him to use the AFL pension money while prosecution says both former President Sirleaf and Samukai were wrong to use the money in the form and manner they did.
The final arguments are the opportunity for each party to remind jurors about key evidence presented and to persuade them to adopt an interpretation favorable to their position. At this point, parties are free to use hypothetical analogies to make their points; to comment on the credibility of the witnesses, to discuss how they believe the various pieces of the puzzle fit into a compelling whole, and to advocate why jurors should decide the case in their favor.
The account, established in 2009, was a contributory saving fund that 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, which Samukai testified that it was former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who authorized him to use the money for the operation of the soldiers instead of the purpose for which it was established.
But in this case, neither lawyers from the prosecution nor defense cared to ask Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay to invite the former President to testify into the matter which, on yesterday, necessitated the judge to rhetorically questioned the lawyers, during the final argument why they did not request the testimony of Madam Sirleaf.
Gbeisay’s concern prompted heated debate, with both the defense and prosecution trying to justify their failure to ensure the testimony of Madam Sirleaf.
In his justification, Cllr. Ndubusi Nwabudike, the executive chairperson of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), argued that they expected the defense team to summon Madam Sirleaf for her testimony because the burden of proof was squarely shifted upon them to exonerate themselves from the accusation.
“There was no reason to ask for her testimony,” Cllr. Nwabudike argued, adding that Madam Sirleaf’s instruction to Samukai was illegal, because her tenure was by then expired, and President George Weah was by then elected. According to him, everything that Sirleaf did including her authorization of Samukai to use the soldier funds was wrong.
Nwabudike also said that the money was private and not public and for Madam Sirleaf to authorize Samukai to use it was illegal; an argument that did not answer the concern of Judge Gbeisay.
In counter-argument, Cllr. Micah Wilkins Wright said, there was no need to invite former President Sirleaf because she by then was the Commander-In-Chief of the AFL and, therefore, her instruction to Samukai was legal and binding on him to act immediately.
“Samukai followed her instruction as his boss, and there is no crime why he acted upon it. Samukai spent the money upon the authorization of the CIC and she even informed the current President, George Weah, about her instruction to Samukai and Weah, and he saw the truthfulness of the disbursement and chose to pay back the money, which he started paying since 2018,” Cllr. Wright argued. This, also, did not address Judge Gbeisay’s concern.
Samukai also argued 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 refunding the AFL Welfare money, 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 the AFL Welfare Fund during the passage of the budget 2018.
Samukai had further repeated that the decisions reached between former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and President George Manneh Weah during a series of meetings held together between January 13 and 17, 2018, and with the leadership of the AFL, that the incoming government would refund all funds spent from the AFL Welfare Fund.