Having dismissed and accused his Audit Director for Large Tax Payers, Eric Nagbe, of receiving a US$30,000 bribe to reduce three companies’ taxes, Finance and Development Planning Minister Amara Konneh was on Friday found guilty and ordered to pay US$1.65m in damages for libel.
Giving the court ruling, Judge Johannes Zlahn, who served as both judge and jury at the trial, declared that “the oral and documentary evidences produced clearly established that Minister Konneh’s action inflicted serious damages and defamed Nagbe’s reputation.”
Judge Zlahn further declared that “Minster Konneh maliciously carried out his action because he wanted to give his kinsman, one Mohammed Dukuly, the position previously occupied by Nagbe.”
Initially, Nagbe’s lawyers were seeking the court intervention to hold Minister Konneh liable in the amount of US$7.5m.
They were requesting for US$5m as general damages, US$500K punitive damage, US$1m consequential damages, and US$1m in compensatory damages he caused to their client’s character and reputation.
In their counter argument, Konneh’s lawyers admitted dismissing and publicly accusing Nagbe of receiving a US$30,000 bribe from companies to compromise their taxes, arguing that their client’s action did not cause Nagbe to suffer any injury.
Throughout the trial, Minister Konneh did not appear in court to take the witness stand and denied his involvement in the matter.
He did not honor any of the communications inviting him to the court up to the time of the ruling.
Immediately following Judge Zlahn’s ruling, one of Nagbe’s lawyers, Atty. Arthur Johnson, speaking with journalists, hailed the decision of the court, describing it as a “deterrent.”
“I’m surprised that Judge Zlahn could muster such courage to come down with this ruling against a senior minister like Konneh,” Atty. Johnson said, adding, “This is a clear demonstration that we have brave and honest men and women in the justice system. We want to make this call that public officials should now understand that their staffs are not their personal property. They need to treat them with respect as human beings.”
The case emerged in 2012, when lawyers representing Eric Nagbe filed an “action of damages” for libel stating among others things that Minister Konneh at a press conference publicly accused their client and two other members of his staff of receiving US$30,000 to reduce three companies’ taxes owed the government.
They further alleged that Minister Konneh did not stop there; instead, he forwarded Nagbe to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) for prosecution.
The LACC investigation cleared Nagbe of the allegation.
Before turning Nagbe over to the LACC, the lawyers said, Minister Konneh sent him to then MOF Internal Affairs Division (IAD), a board set up by Konneh for such investigations and the board exonerated Nagbe from the allegation.
Both the LACC and the IAD recommended that Minister Konneh reinstate Nagbe to his position, which Konneh failed to do up to the present.
In addition, Minister Konneh allegedly instructed the United States Embassy in Monrovia to deny Nagbe a visa to travel to the U.S.
However, prior to that request, argued the lawyer, Nagbe had already received his visa from the U. S. Embassy to spend his vacation in that country.
The lawyer said the Embassy allegedly revoked the visa without informing Nagbe.
“After our client arrived at the airport in the USA on Air France, he was denied entry and deported to Liberia on the grounds that he was undergoing criminal investigation.”
Besides, he was allegedly arrested in France and detained for over four hours before being allowed to return to Liberia, Nagbe’s lawyer divulged.