Lebanese National Cleared of Human Trafficking Charges

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Once again, a case of sexual and other human rights-related crimes allegedly committed by foreign nationals against innocent Liberian girls has been thrown out on a technicality. Judge George Smith, in his ruling at the 11th Judicial Circuit Court in Tubmanburg, Bomi County, said the state lawyers were unlicensed and lacked direct evidence.

Abbas El Debes, a Lebanese national at the center of an alleged human trafficking syndicate that transported 14 Liberian girls to Lebanon and “purposely placed them in danger of forced slavery, sexual assault and rape,” according to an indictment, was on Monday cleared of the charges by the 11th Judicial Circuit Court in Tubmanburg, Bomi County.

Dropping the charges against Debes, Judge George Smith declared that state lawyers did not raise any legal grounds to support the indictment that would have convinced him to convict the defendant.

While no direct evidence of human trafficking was established, Judge Smith said both prosecuting attorneys, Cornelius Flomo Kennah and D. Stephen Williams, also County and Assistant County Attorneys (respectively) for Bomi County, did not have the standing to institute the action against the defendant.

The judge’s action supported defense lawyer Cllr. Amara Sheriff’s contention about Attys. Kennah and Williams being ineligible to bring the charges against the defendant.

Cllr. Sheriff’s argument was that both prosecutors failed to procure valid lawyers’ licenses and also refused to pay their Bar dues, in accordance with the law and the rules of the court.

Defending his action, Judge Smith cited the court’s Rule 37, which provides that “a person or persons who have failed to straightly comply with the rule concerning the admission to practice law should not be allowed to practice in any courts in the country.”

He said “The first part of a lawyer’s duty is seen in the oath of his admission where he understands to support the law among other things.”

He also quoted Rule 40, which provides that “before a lawyer can have standing to practice in a court that individual must prove that he or she has a valid lawyer’s license and must have paid his LNBA dues.”

He asked the prosecutors to produce receipts before the court within three days as of this ruling to show evidence that they have obtained valid lawyers’ licenses and paid their dues.

Debes was indicted along with co-defendants Bashir Al Lakis, Ghazi Bashar, Hayah Debes, all Lebanese nationals, and Richard Dickson Tamba for their alleged involvement in trafficking 14 young Liberian girls to Lebanon between 2011 and 2013.

The case began in 2015 and was suspended after the then jury panel failed to come up with a verdict.

It was based on that decision that the defense team and prosecution agreed to have Judge Smith determine the case alone.

The 22-count indictment revealed that defendant Debes, who was tried separately from his co-defendants, allegedly trafficked the girls to Lebanon through the Roberts International Airport (RIA) purposely for exploitation, by means of deception and abuse.

Defendant Debes, according to the indictment, allegedly conspired with co-defendant Richard Tamba to carry out the transactions regarding the girls, and purposely placed them in danger of forced slavery, sexual assault and rape.

Count four of the indictment stated that the girls were placed under the pretense that they were going to be employed in supermarkets, restaurants, and also served as secretaries in Lebanon, and would be paid between US$200 and US$250 per month, with the understanding of going to school there to further their education.

The indictment said upon the arrival of the Liberian women in Lebanon, co-defendants Ghazi Bashar and Bashir Lakis allegedly took their passports and distributed the girls to various family homes for US$3,500 apiece and pocketed the proceeds.

Debes’ alleged co-conspirators are said to be at large, and he would have been the only one held responsible for the fate of the Liberian girls. The government of Liberia opted to move the case against the defendant to the jurisdiction of Tubmanburg, Bomi County, where it was later discovered by defense attorneys that the County Attorney and his deputy were in fact practicing law without licenses.

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