The Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice on Tuesday dropped allegation of economic sabotage, citing “injustices” against defendant Nelson Williams, former managing director of Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC). The charges were brought against Williams by the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission (LACC).
“This court is guided by the fundamental principle of law which holds that the purpose of prosecution is not necessarily to convict, but to ensure that truth and justice prevail,” Presiding Judge Emery Paye said when he dismissed the charges against Williams.
He added: “It shall constitute a great injustice to defendant Williams to the onerous burden of a trial with such evident defects in the institution of the LACC indictment.”
Judge Paye’s action supported that of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), which is the prosecutorial arm of government, declining to form part of the matter, although the LACC contended that it would proceed with the prosecution – with an aftermath that cost the mismanagement hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ money.
Judge Paye’s decision was also based on a request from defendant Williams’ legal team pleading with him to dismiss the matter, arguing that there are defects in the LACC’s indictment.
“After careful perusal of the case file confirmed that the LACC ignored the recommendation contained in its final investigative report, dated August 19, 2013, and to the contrary elected defendant Williams and several others,” Judge Paye said.
Defendant Williams and several others, including former Minister of Commence, Miatta Beysolow, whose charges was also dropped, were indicted for the commissions of the crimes of economic sabotage, misapplication of entrusted property, criminals conspiracy and facilitation and violation of the required Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) process and procedures.
Williams was then Managing Director of the LPRC, up to April 2015.
The LACC alleged that during the sale of the Japanese oil grant, defendant Williams generated over US$13 million, which the defendants also distributed among themselves.
They also claimed that the defendants single-handedly picked Aminata and Sons to sell the petroleum product without going through the PPCC competitive bidding process.
According to Judge Paye, Section 11.3 of the LACC Act of 2008 gives the MOJ the right to decline to prosecute a case of corruption recommended by the LACC, “If it determines that the evidence adduced by the commission is manifestly inadequate or illegally acquired.”
In such a case, Judge Paye explained, “The commission shall be given the opportunity to augment the evidence or to show that the evidence is in fact adequate and properly acquired.”
Judge Paye said that the omission or failure by the LACC to show any modified investigative report containing augmented evidence when the MOJ refused to prosecute, but proceed to ask for an indictment charging the defendants, “In the mind of this court is a serious defect in the institution of the prosecution and or the indictment.”
He said during their argument, the LACC’s legal team admitted that there was only one report which forms the basis for the indictment, and that there was no augmented evidence and or modified investigative report in the case file.
“It is clearly seen that the LACC failed to exercise due care in the conduct of the investigation, preparation and handling of the report,” he clarified, adding, “this court’s answer to the question whether or not defendant Williams had established sufficient grounds for the dismissal of the indictment is a resounding ‘yes.’”
The case started on March 8, 2011, when the Liberian government and the Government of Japan executed an exchange of notes to which Japan donated 15,000 metric tons of petroleum products to Liberia.
The products were consigned to the MOC, of which that ministry was charged with the responsibility to monetize the products and the proceeds used for economic and social development.
On August 30, 2011, a memorandum was entered into between MOC, LPRC and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), for which the LPRC was appointed implementing agent for the monetization of the donated petroleum products.
The document outlined specific tasks to be carried out by the LPRC including to ensure the sale of the products through duly authorized importers and depositing the proceeds in the special Government of Liberia account established by the MOC at the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) and to ensure that five
Liberian importers that participated in the monetization process had the capacity to move at least 500 tons of the products at once.
The LPRC invited three major Liberia owned importers, sellers, suppliers and distributors of petroleum products in Liberia, according to the court’s records.
The companies were Animata and Sons Inc., Srimex Enterprise Inc, and Conex Petroleum Services Inc.
To ensure the successful implementation of the entrusted product the three petroleum companies on June 1, 2011, entered into a tripartite agreement designating Aminata and Sons to represent them in the distribution of the products, which is contrary to the LACC’s allegation that Williams and his codefendants singlehandedly picked Aminata and Sons as the sole distributors of the products, thereby refusing to follow the PPCC competitive bidding process.
Meanwhile, Judge Paye yesterday started the prosecution of Aminata and Sons, who the LACC accused of being single-handedly picked out by Williams and the other co-defendants to sell the petroleum product without going through the PPCC competitive bidding process.
Other defendants expected to be tried on similar allegations include the Director of Price Analysis at the Commerce Ministry, Steven Flahn Paye; and former LPRC Deputy Boss for Operation, Aaron Wheagar.