Judge Reverses Guilty Decision

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Five days after government lawyers challenged and threatened to complain to the Supreme Court about Judge Peter Gbeneweleh of Criminal Court ‘C’ over his guilty verdict against some dismissed managers of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), including its Managing Director, Moses Wogbeh, the judge yesterday reversed his decision.
Judge Gbeneweleh on August 25 found guilty Moses Wogbeh and four others, including a Surveyor of the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy of economic sabotage and ordered them to restitute the amount of US$6m, which they accumulated from illegal issuance of 61 Private Use Permits (PUPs) that authorized logging companies to operate on 1.2million hectares of farmland, and subsequently sentenced them to five years imprisonment, refusing to follow the ten years as provided under the law.
Judge Gbeneweleh who served as judge and jury during the trial declared that “consistent with the relevant provision of the law, this court hereby corrects the portion relating to the restitution, fine and the imprisonment.”
He further ordered defendants Moses Wogbeh, John Kantor, Jangar Kamara, David Blayee and Maxwell Gwee to restitute the amount of US$6m to the government as of August 25, 2015.
He also fined the defendants US$10,000 each to be paid into government revenue within 72 hours as of the date of the final judgment on August 25, and sentenced them to a period of ten years as of the date of the final judgment.
Judge Gbeneweleh instructed his Sheriff to prepare a commitment and place same in the hands of the Sheriff to have them detained for the period of ten years at the Monrovia Central Prison in Montserrado County or any suitable prison facility in the country.
However, the convicts themselves were not present in court yesterday when Judge Gbeneweleh changed his decision in the ruling.
Judge Gbeneweleh cited Section 23.5 page 385 of the Criminal Procedure Laws, which provides “for correction or modification of sentence,” and Section 15.87 of the Penal Code, which he said, related to fines and restitution.
Wogbeh together with his principal deputies John Kantor, Maxwell Gwee, Jangar Kamara and David Blayee (a surveyor at the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy) were accused of multiple crimes, including obtaining and issuing deceptive writings, obstruction of government functions by public servants and economic sabotage.
Their action caused government to lose an amount of US$6 million in revenue intake. Instead the defendants claimed that it was their board chair, the former Agriculture Minister Florence Chenoweth, who authorized and approved the issuance of the 61 permits to logging companies.

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