James Togbah, former general manager of Korea Trading Liberia Limited, a firm that sells and rents vehicles and spare parts, was convicted on Friday for his involvement in robbing his Korean business partner, Choi Hungchi, of US$54,570.
Judge Blamo Dixon of Criminal Court ‘C’, who served as both judge and jury during the trial which lasted several months, found Togbah guilty on charges of misapplication of entrusted property by a convicted felon.
Judge Dixon imposed a six months sentence on Togbah and also ordered that he restitute the US$54,570.
In the court ruling, Judge Dixon stated that “It is the considered final judgment of the court that the defendant is hereby adjudged guilty of the alleged crime of misapplication of entrusted property.”
“The defendant is hereby ordered to make restitution of the amount of US$54,570 and he is hereby sentenced to imprisonment for a period of six months.”
Minutes after Judge Dixon’s judgment, lawyers representing Togbah seriously rejected the ruling and subsequently announced an appeal before the Full Bench of the Supreme Court, as provided by the law.
Based in that appeal, Togbah would not face his punishment until the Full Bench can decide whether or not Judge Dixon’s judgment was right.
Supporting his ruling, the Judge said the defendant lied and deceived his court because he told the court that one Bishop Mannaseh Conto ‘pressurized’ him by taking him to another court, Debt Court, and making him pay US$12,570 to the Bishop’s Sack Group of Companies without the knowledge of his partner Hungchi, who was out of the country.
“The defendant told this court that the said amount of US$12,570 was paid through money transfer from the account of Korea Trading Liberia Limited to the account of Sack Group of Companies at the Caldwell Branch of Ecobank-Liberia in Monrovia,” Judge Dixon quoted defendant Togbah’s testimony during the trial.
But, according to the Criminal Court Judge, “When one of the defendant’s own witnesses, Bishop Manasseh Conto testified before this court, he said Togbah paid the money by check and same was encashed at the head office of Ecobank on Ashmun and Roland Streets in Monrovia.”
Citing portions of the law, Judge Dixon explained that “The uncorroborated testimony of a person accused of a crime is insufficient to acquit, especially when the evidence against him is clear and convincing.”
“Any unexplained shortage in an account creates a strong presumption of criminal conversion…false in one thing false in all.”
Immediately, after the ruling, Hungchi, in tears, told journalists that at long last he was getting justice.
“Actually, I was so worried about what lot of people have been saying about Liberia’s justice system. Some had told me that the justice system was rotten and I was not going to get justice; but now I can tell the rest of the world that there is justice in Liberia for everyone, including foreigners,” Hungchi joyfully told journalists.
“Without fear I can now say that Liberia is a country of justice, you just need to try it to see what I’m saying.”
The case started on August 17, 2014, when the defendant was indicted by the Grand Jury of Montserrado County based upon a complaint from Choi Hungchi, a Korean businessman owner of Korea Trading Liberia Limited.
In his complaint, Hungchi alleged that while he was away due to the intensity of the Ebola virus, when his country advised them to leave Liberia, he and the defendant entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
In that document, Hungchi claimed that he surrendered the company to the care of the defendant but advised him not to make any disbursements without first contacting him through an email.
Unfortunately, Hungchi alleged that defendant Togbah, without his approval, withdrew over US$54,000 from his account at Ecobank.
Interestingly, when defendant Togbah was first arraigned before Judge Dixon, and the indictment was read to him, he pleaded not guilty. After his not guilty plea, Togbah waived jury trial as provided for under the law.