Judge Peter Gbeneweleh of Criminal Court ‘C’ yesterday announced that he was unable to preside over the US$1.2 million case involving several employees of the First International Bank (FIB).
Judge Gbeneweleh said his decision came after he realized that one of the defendants, Africanus Freeman, who served as cash officer of the bank, is the son of his childhood friend, whose identity he did not disclose.
His decision was rejected by government lawyers, who announced that they would take the matter to the Supreme Court.
Judge Gbeneweleh has been handling the case for over a year, with state lawyers resting their case with both oral and documentary evidences.
“Judges are under legal and moral obligation to maintain our neutrality and not to prejudice the interest of any party,” he said.
The judge said after his revelation to the parties about his relationship to defendant Freeman, none of the parties’ lawyers (prosecution and defense) filed any request demanding him to step-down from the case.
“It is the judge’s own request that made him not to proceed with the case in the interest of transparency,” Judge Gbeneweleh defended his position.
“I decided not to keep it secret; therefore I explained it to both sate lawyers and the defense team about my relationship to defendant Freeman,” Judge Gbeneweleh narrated, “because I took an oath to defend and uphold the constitution and laws of Liberia.”
Freeman together with his collaborators were indicted in 2013 for their alleged involvement using withdrawal slips filled in, approved, signed and in some instances not signed, and without the knowledge and participation of the bank’s customers, to steal US$1,220,028.54 from the bank.