In the ongoing Global Witness bribery case, involving several present and past public officials, including former House Speaker Alex Tyler, Criminal Court ‘C’ yesterday issued a seven-day ultimatum to government lawyers to ensure that their remaining witnesses, both local and foreign, are in the country by Monday, April 10.
Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay’s action was in response to prosecution’s request for the court for 10 days to have the other witnesses to appear, either physically or by other social media means that would allow the court to interact with them.
State lawyers had earlier allowed two of their 26 witnesses to testify, excluding Heine Van Niekerk, a South African and executive of Sable Mining, a UK based company, that Global Witness claimed leaked the email and spreadsheet about the bribery scandal.
Further to his decision, the Criminal Court Judge openly warned prosecutors their witnesses whether foreigner or local “are required to be present in court and on time, failure of which the prosecution will be penalized, including fine for each of the lawyers.”
Granting prosecution’s request with modifications, Judge Gbeisay maintained that the case will be continued in seven days, from Tuesday, April 4, up to and including Monday on April 10. “This case will commence on Tuesday, April 11, at the precise hour of 9 a.m.,” he said.
According to the judge, the crimes of which the defendants are charged were allegedly committed partially through the internet, involving foreigners beyond the country’s borders.
“The introduction of internet and internet crimes has introduced challenges for courts not only in Liberia, but around the world, especially with respect to obtaining witnesses and documentary evidence from other jurisdictions,” Gbeisay stated.
“While the court understands the concern of the defendants with respect to the protection of their right to speedy trial,” he said, “in this jurisdiction, the speedy trial mandated by the constitution is based on the fact and circumstance of a specific case which lies with the sound discretion of the trial judge.”
Gbeisay said the court is of the opinion that based on the peculiar facts and circumstances of this case and the involvement of foreigners, the request by the prosecution is not unreasonable, contrary to the defense’s argument.
Before Gbeisay’s decision, the defense team had argued that the prosecution’s request gave the impression that they have no other witnesses to testify in the matter, despite assuring the court that they have 26 witnesses, majority of who are in the country.
“If these witnesses are immaterial to the prosecution’s case, then thereafter these witnesses are unworthy of being presented to this court to testify in any aspect of the case,” the defense argued, “the indictment against the defendants is orchestrated primarily to create undue hardship for the defendants, and therefore, the court should deny and dismiss it.”
Meanwhile, Judge Gbeisay yesterday refused to accept prosecutions’ “Motion to Rescind” asking the court to accept their e-mails and spreadsheet evidences without Heine Van Niekerk, the man behind the leaked information testifying.
Refusing the request, the judge declared that the allegation contained in the e-mails and spreadsheets were cardinal and they touched the nucleus of the case, “considering the defense’s contention that this information was hacked from the defendants’ or Sable Mining’s e-mail, in contrast to the fact that Global Witness itself maintains that its report is based on leaked e-mails and spreadsheets.”
He went on, “It was proper for Heine Van Niekerk who alleged that he was the recipient of these emails to appear in court to testify to the document, so as to give the defendants the opportunity to cross examine him with specific reference to the Global Witness report in open court.”
Therefore, Gbeisay emphasized, “the court ruled temporarily marking said instrument, pending the arrival of Niekerk, who is a major participant in the alleged e-mails and spreadsheets exchanges who prosecution listed as one of its witnesses , and promised that he would be brought to testify.”
Global Witness Report claimed that co-defendant Varney Sherman, while serving as the Liberian lawyer for Sable Mining, received over US$950,000 from the company to bribe past and present government officials, including former House Speaker Alex Tyler to change the Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) that was before the legislature to award Wologizi Mountain, in Lofa County, as a concession to mining company without it going through any competitive bidding process, according to state lawyers.