The judge overseeing the prosecution of Andrew Wonploe, the suspended Passport Director, who allegedly defrauded the government of Liberia US$25,000 in the illegal sale of passports to non-Liberians, has dismissed all criminal charges against the defendant and his co-conspirator.
The decision by Judge Yamie Gbeisay of Criminal Court C to drop prosecution charges against the defendant and his associate came as a result of the Ministry of Justice (prosecutors) failure to make a substantial follow-up on the case.
With this ruling, Judge Gbeisay’s decision means that the government can no longer continue with Wonploe prosecution. Gbeisay’s action immediately followed after Wonploe’s legal team prayed the court to drop the government charges that included economic sabotage, theft of property, and criminal conspiracy for allegedly defrauding the state of US$25,000 in the illegal sale of passports to non-Liberians — an accusation that Wonploe had denied.
The government also claimed that Wonploe connived with a Nigerian national identified as Adeydoyin Atiro to sell the 4,250 pieces of Liberian passports entrusted into his care by the authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The court claims that “the government has deliberately refused to pursue this accusation it levied against Wonploe, leaving it with no option but to grant Wonploe’s request to drop the case against him.”
How the Case Came About
The case against Wonploe, which began last year, came as a result of his alleged involvement in the illegal sales of Liberian passports to foreign nationals.
At that time, the government in its indictment said Wonploe and his co-conspirator — the defendants — were arrested for being involved in a passport scheme that defrauds the state of the amount of US$25,000 in revenue.
The indictment further said Wonploe, while serving in his position, “purposely knowingly, willfully and intentionally signed and issued several pieces of the passports to co-defendant Atiro”.
“Defendants Wonploe and Adedoyin Atiro connived, conspired and colluded and, without any sense of remorse, began to sell the Liberian Passports to non-Liberians within and out of the country,” the government indictment said.
“The Special Grand Jury of Montserrado County, Republic of Liberia, upon oath, do hereby find more probably than not that Defendants Andrew Wonploe and Adedoyin Atiro committed the crime of theft of property and a felony of the second degree,” the indictment added.
Moreover, the government claims that 17 booklets of birth certificates were illegally issued to individuals without any payment made to the government.
As then Director of Passport, Wonploe had with him, 4,250 pieces of Liberian Passports, which were meant to be issued to Liberians.
While the Court has dismissed the case against Wonploe and his associate, the government from the onset has been reluctant to pursue the case since the defendants’ first court appearance.
This situation has already fueled a public argument that the government neglected the case because if they were to continue it, Wonploe would have exposed the role each senior official played in the “passport syndicate.”
The lack of interest in the case from the government raises serious questions about who all in the chain of command at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs might have been implicated in the investigation if the matter were fleshed out in court. And now, in an election year, when the current Foreign Minister, under whose watch the Wonploe scandal took place, has declared his intent to run for senatorial office, there may be multiple reasons to have the case die quietly.
What happened at Wonploe’s first court appearance?
Even before the case against Wonploe and his associate were dismissed, the former, during his first court appearance after his first criminal bond was denied, was hijacked from the court compound from the bailiffs by unknown men, who then released him from handcuffs—and ran away.
The attack on the bailiffs came after the then Magistrate of the Monrovia City Court, Bana, authorized his officers to proceed with Wonploe to the Monrovia Central Prison until his lawyer can file a new bond, because the court denied his first bond for insufficiency, meaning the money posted on the bond was not enough.
Robin Dopoe contributed to this story.