What was supposed to be the start of the long-awaited US$5,062,419.10 theft of property and economic sabotage case against Senate Secretary Nanborlor Singbeh turned into a war of words on Tuesday, June 16, 2020, between Cllr. Nyenati Tuan, Acting Minister of Justice and Attorney General, and the Solicitor General, Cllr. Saymah Syrenius Cephus.
Their argument ensued over a communication dated June 12, 2020 and signed by Cllr. Tuan, restricting Cllr. Cephus and Montserrado County Attorney, Cllr. Edwin Martin’s Attorney participation in the matter submitted to Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay of Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice.
Cllr. Cephus raised an issue that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) had no jurisdiction to indict Singbeh over what he (Cephus) termed as “Corporate conflict.”
Cllr. Cephus, in a telephone interview on Tuesday, June 16, told journalists at the Temple of Justice that Singbeh and his investors were corporate partners and so, the matter is solely business fight and it is void of criminality.
“These partners argued over a business disagreement and they have to settle the matter themselves and there is no legal issue to go to court,” Cllr. Cephus noted, adding, “Even the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) has dismissed the case.”
It may be recalled that during the recent case involving an over US$1 million dispute between two Lebanese businessmen, plaintiff Ezzat Eid and defendants, Salah and Tamer Farhat over their partnership in Toya Motors, heard at the same Criminal Court ‘C’, Cllr. Cephus, during his argument said that the act of the Farhats was criminal in nature and justice should prevail. Cephus’s argument won the case against Farhat.
To justify his accusation, Cephus through social media forwarded the LACC’s communication, dated June 10, 2020, addressed to Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean, to journalists.
Cllr. Tuan could not be reached for comment, but a communication, dated June 12, 2020 and addressed to Criminal Court ‘C’, was obtained by the Daily Observer.
Tuan’s letter reads: “We present our compliments and write to inform you that by directives of Cllr. Frank Musa Dean, Jr., Minister/Attorney General of Liberia, that he (Cllr. Dean), Counselors Saymah Syrenius Cephus, Solicitor General of Liberia, and Edwin K. Martins, Montserrado County Attorney are recused from the above mention case: Republic of Liberia (Plaintiff); Crimes Economic Sabotage, Theft of Property, Criminal Conspiracy and Criminal Facilitation Vs. J. Nanborloh F. Singbeh. et.al (Defendants), which is now pending before the Honorable Court, their recusal is predicated upon the fact that these individuals represented the private prosecutors in private practice.”
It concludes, “Please note that representation of the case for the Government of Liberia will be made by Cllr. Wesseh A. Wesseh, Assistant Minister for Litigation, Ministry of Justice (MoJ), and Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, a retained lawyer of the private prosecutor who was given a letter patent by the Ministry of Justice for the trial of the case and other prosecuting Attorneys of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).”
Singbeh was indicted along with several other former government officials to include George W. Wisner, former executive director/ acting chairman of the National Investment Commission (NIC), Ecobank Liberia Limited, Afriland First Bank-Liberia by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) based on an investigative report conducted by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC).
The LACC’s investigation resulted from a complaint filed on behalf of two (2) Czech Republic investors, Pavel and Martin Miloschewsky by their Attorney-In-Fact, Mr. Hans Armstrong, a British national, accusing Singbeh and his co-defendants of stealing the over US$5 million that include equipment shipped by the Czech brothers for the MHM Eko-Liberia, Inc. a rock crushing company operating in Liberia.
Singbeh holds a 30 percent share in the company, while the Miloschewsky’s brothers hold 35 percent share each. The money was intended for salary payment and other expenditures of the company. According to the indictment, Singbeh and his co-defendants did not sell a single load of rock and could not account for the funds transferred through the banks, Ecobank and Afriland First Bank.
However, the LACC’s letter addressed to Cllr. F. Musa Dean and signed by Cllr. A. Ndubuisi Nwabudike, executive chairman of the LACC, a copy of which is also in the possession of the Daily Observer, says, ”I present compliments on behalf of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) and wish to inform you of the commission’s decision to retrieve, and become seized of cases forwarded to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution between 2018, 2019 and 2020, and on which no action was taken.”
The letter further says, “This decision is consistent with Part XI: Section 11.4 ( a) of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) Act of 2008 which gives the commission the power to prosecute cases directly “If” the Ministry of Justice, for whatever reason(s), does not take action to prosecute a case of corruption forwarded to it by the commission within three (3) calendar months of receipt of the request to prosecute.”
Cllr. Nwabudike named the cases as Liberian National Red Cross Society Procurement Fraud Case (submitted June 6, 2018), The MGCSP Payroll Peddling Case (Submitted September 19, 2018,) Liberia Institute of Public Administration Case (Submitted September 19, 2018), NTA corruption case (Submitted July 31, 2019); GAC AG’s Report on Grand Cape Mount County covering the period between 2011-2013 (submitted July 31, 2019), CARI corruption case, Phase I (submitted July 31, 2019), GAC AG’s report on SDF and CDI of Montserrado County (submitted August 8, 2019), Final Report into the allegation of Fraud and Misapplication by Hon. J. Nanborlor Singbeh, Secretary of the Liberian Senate (submitted November 26, 2019), and Foya Polytechnic Institution Corruption Case (submitted February 26, 2020).
The letter also says, “The LACC remains committed to its partnership with the Ministry of Justice in pursuit of the investigation and prosecution of acts of corruption,” It concludes: “We, therefore, look forward to continued collaboration and effective teamwork in all cases of corruption including these cases which the LACC is now assuming the lead to prosecute.”
When contacted, Minister Wesseh A. Wesseh described the LACC’s letter as “mute,” meaning voiceless and against the act of the LACC.
“Why would Cllr. Nwabudike claim that the ministry has not taken any action to prosecute? We have indicted Singbeh and already the writ of arrest has been issued by the court, so how could somebody claim that we have not done anything with Singbeh case,” Minister Wesseh wondered.
According to Minister Wesseh, the LACC submitted findings of the investigative report to the ministry in January of this year, “And, we have to do a thorough investigation to see whether there is evidence to indict Singbeh and his collaborators, which we did and forwarded the matter to court on June 12, 2020,” Wesseh explained.
Minister Wesseh said that LACC does not have any authority to withdraw a case being handled by the ministry, “It is only the ministry that sends back cases to the LACC, and so, they cannot demand the ministry to send back Singbeh’s case and any other cases back to them without our approval.”
It may be recalled that during his confirmation in 2019, Cllr. Cephus pledged to go after the corrupt officials.
Cllr. Cephus told the lawmakers that “There would be no hiding place; no one would be too big to confront, there would be no mountain too high to climb and no valley too low to walk. We are resolved that this fight would even continue if we are confirmed by the Honorable Liberian Senate. But, until then, the process of review of all the audit reports has started. So, I want to announce to you that the fight or the war on corruption is not today, it’s not hereafter, it’s not tomorrow but begins now. And the focus is to recover the resources of the Liberian people and to root out looters and those who believe that they can reduce the national treasury to a sorry state.”
According to Cephus, he has begun the review process of all audits and investigations by the General Auditing Commission and the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, declaring that the goal is to create a conducive atmosphere where those who have been audited and found liable would be invited and given two choices to make – our priority choice number one is the recovery process, it calls for restitution and when you are invited after the review process, you would be given these two choices – restitution or prosecution.”