The courtroom of Criminal Court ‘C’ in Monrovia was on Thursday, October 31, took a humorous turn when lawyers representing three suspended senior managers of the National Housing Authority (NHA) who have been accused of bribery, questioned the credibility of a prosecution’s rebuttal witness, who identified voices on a tape recording based on which the defendants are being tried.
The prosecution had charged Duannah Siryon, managing director of the NHA, Tugbeh C. Tugbeh, deputy managing director for administration, and Isaac Roberts, director for technical service, all suspend from the NHA, for allegedly receiving US$80,000 as “bribe” from GELPAZ-IMMO, a company based in Burkina-Faso, in an attempt to award a contract to construct 50,000 housing units to that company.
The government lawyers also claimed that they received the information based on an audio recording presented to them by the office of President George Weah, in which recording, the prosecution said, they heard the defendants arguing over an “unequal distribution of the money received from GELPAZ-IMMO.”
But the defendants have all denied the allegation, insisting that they do not have any knowledge about the recording, and that there was no argument about any money.
It was against this backdrop that the prosecution requested the court to accept the testimony of one of the criminal investigators from the Liberia National Police (LNP), Jacob Suah.
However, the defense team, prior to Suah’s testimony, argued that Suah, who has no training or expertise in forensic linguistics, is not qualified to identify the voice of the defendants on the President’s alleged disc which contained the so-called recording about the unequal distribution argument among members of the the NHA’s senior management team.
Despite the contention, Judge Blamo Dixon granted the prosecution’s request to have the audio recording played in open court in order to give sufficient notice to the defendants, “because it is alleged that the defendants had altercation (argument) in the recording.”
Cllr. Jerry Garlawulu, a prosecution lawyer, played the recording from a CD in a laptop computer, connected to a loud-speaker in the courtroom. However, many in the audience said they could not hear clearly what was being said on the recording.
Defense lawyer Cllr. Augustine Toe caused a side-splitting laughter in the court when he described the recording as a “bull-frog talking” recording, referencing the poor quality of the audio.
Afterward, Officer Suah, whose testimony was intended to rebuke the defendants’ denial statement, told the court that he was one of those investigators who heard voices on a “secret audio recording” which he believed was the voices of the defendants.
After a single investigation with the defendants in custody, officer Suah claimed that the voices on the recording were those of the defendants.
Suah later said he was certain of the matched speech, because the defendants, like the voices on the recordings, had “an angry tone.”
When asked whether he was at the NHA’s office when the reported confusion ensued between the three defendants and Augustine Weah, who is said to be at-large, Suah replied in the negative.
“The audio recording was given to us by our bosses, which recording we reviewed and listened to; but I did not mention in my testimony that I was present at the NHA’s office during the altercation between Siryon and his deputies,” Suah said.
Suah, in response to a question about the name of his boss, said: “The recording was turned over by the chief criminal investigator in person of ACP Moore A. Dennis.”
When asked further that since he listened to the recording, which lasted for almost 15-20 minutes, to the best of his knowledge, who were those talking in the said recording, Suah said: “During the time that I was listening to the recording in court, I heard the voice of Siryon, Tugbeh and Roberts, along with Ambassador Augustine Weah.”
Again asked how he got to know that those voices were of Siryon, Tugbeh and Roberts, Suah replied: “I earlier said in our investigation when these recording were presented, that our bosses at the LNP headquarters had listened attentively to this recording that was played before us in our investigative room on our computer, during which we identified the defendants by their tones of speaking.”
Meanwhile, Judge Dixon has scheduled final argument into the matter for Tuesday, November 5, 2019.