The Supreme Court yesterday ordered an immediate suspension of the ongoing US$1.8m theft case involving four former employees of the Liberia Coca-Cola Bottling Company (LCCBC), after a complaint of biases and partiality was filed against presiding Judge Peter Gbeneweleh of Criminal Court ‘C.’
The order issued by Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh was due to a ‘Writ of Certiorari’ asked to be filed against Judge Gbeneweleh by lawyers representing the LCCBC.
Certiorari is an order of a high court to a lower court to send all the documents in a case to it so the higher court can review them.
In their complaint, the company’s lawyers accused Judge Gbeneweleh of showing bias and partiality, and gross ignorance of the law, when he allegedly made ‘inflammatory and prejudicial statements’ in court while the trial was ongoing in favour of the defendants.
Despite ‘producing several oral and documentary evidences’ in their testimony before the court, including forensic audit report, Judge Gbeneweleh allegedly ignored their evidences and posed questions that presuppose that those materials were not before the court, the lawyers said in their complaint.
“For his erroneous, prejudicial and illegal action, contrary to the law, Judge Gbeneweleh must be made to restrain himself from further proceeding with the hearing of the matter,” said LCCBC lawyers’ 12-page complaint.
LCCBC earlier filed a case of misapplication of entrusted property, criminal conspiracy and facilitation against their suspended employees to hold them responsible for the alleged siphoning of over US$1.8 million from LCCBC while they were serving in separate capacities with the company, a claim the defendants have denied.
According to LCCBC’s lawyers, Judge Gbeneweleh failed to instruct the clerk to make all their legal instruments admitted into evidence to them and took the documents from the clerk and the court and took them to his home.
The complaint said, Judge Gbeneweleh, during the trial was constantly in the habit of walking out of the courtroom, when some of their witnesses were on the stand, testifying and demonstrating his total lack of interest in the side of the prosecution.
He said this move expanded the coverage of the application for ‘certiorari’ sought by the company, considering the judge’s behaviour and attitude, wanting the high court to stop him from further hearing of the case.
“The action of the judge, taken together gave serious doubt as to his impartiality, integrity and propriety. His act amounts to gross misconduct, constituting the violation of the law,” the lawyers said. Judge Gbeneweleh has few days to respond to the allegation.
The defendants were indicted since 2011 and the case was first heard in 2012, which ended in a hung verdict, because the trial jurors at that time could not reach a definite decision, meaning they did not say whether or not the defendants were guilty.
Their failure prompted then presiding Judge Blamo Dixon to call for a retrial.
A legal expert who spoke with the Daily Observer and advised not to be named said that with so many delays in hearing cases, especially those involving banks and companies, it has the propensity to scare away investors from the country.
According to the expert, if Liberia wants to ensure that investors are interested to invest in the country then, cases of such nature should be ‘fast-tracked’ because that investor spent too much money to retain lawyers that to plead on their behalf.
“Sometime after the case has lasted for so long and the investors have spent lot of money at the end they would leave the country and their employees would be without jobs, which could create serious hardship in the country, and this could also hang a dark cloud over our justice system,” he said.