The ongoing Nimba County stolen Ebola rice case is said to be intensifying after prosecution witnesses took to the stand at the Ganta Magisterial Court on 21st November to give testimony on what they knew about the case.
After coming under public criticism for failing to produce evidence, the prosecution last Friday presented their first batch of witnesses including Nimba Crime Services Department (CSD) Commander, James Kartoe, Isaac Montuah also of the CSD, County Inspector Reginald Mehn and the Ganta Police commander.
The prosecution, represented by Atty. James Boayou, during the hearing on 17th November, prayed the Honorable Court for continuance on Monday, November 24th, arguing that the Ministry of Justice was sending additional lawyers to strengthen the prosecution.
But the defense, represented by Cllr. S. L. Lofan
Keneah, Jr., and Nimba Public Defender Atty. Menwaseh Payebayee resisted, considering the prosecution’s request as unsubstantiated, baseless and in bad faith. They instead requested the court to deny and dismiss the prosecution’s request.
The defense team argued that the case was first nulleprosequai by the state for lack of sufficient evidence to prosecute the accused and reserved the right to refile and the state having gathered sufficient documentary evidence and witnesses, had refiled the case for action.
“After refiling this action, the state at its own volition, assigned this case, knowing that the assignment of this case for today (17th November) is associated with cost to the defendants. The defendants did everything possible to appear before the court for hearing,” the defense said.
The defense further argued that the conduct of the Ministry of Justice was in violation of the constitutional rights of the defendants to a free, fair and speedy trial.
The stolen Ebola food case which was thrown out of court recently over the prosecution’s failure to present evidence, resurfaced at the Ganta Magisterial Court owing to pressure from the Nimba Legislative Caucus, which asked the Ministry of Justice to make all evidence available to prosecute the case.
Based on pressure from the Nimba Legislative Caucus, the Ministry of Justice decided to re-file the case for prosecution on 17th November, but again, the prosecution failed to present evidence.
It appears as though there is no plaintiff in the case, so the prosecution is using the witnesses to back the charges against the accused. But the public had little hope of the government winning the case.
Senator Thomas S. Grupee, Chairman of the Nimba Legislative Caucus, told Radio Saclepea Morning Show on 11th November that the Nimba County Attorney had been ordered to gather all evidence in the case for immediate prosecution.
He described the stealing of the Ebola rice as very bad, calling the act a “crime against humanity” and added that, “those who are behind stealing food intended for the sick or those who are under quarantine should not be allowed to go unpunished.”
He vowed that the caucus will not rest until all those involved are brought to justice to serve as a deterrent against such acts. But during the court hearing, neither the lawmakers nor the local government officials were in court.
On Friday 31st October the Ganta Magisterial Court threw out the stolen Ebola Rice case involving four Nimba health workers and a business woman indefinitely, because the prosecution filed a motion to have the case “Nulleprosequi” due to lack of enough evidence.
Ganta City Solicitor Atty. James Boayou said, “I nulleprosequi the case until the complainer can come and explain the details of the case to me.”
But Senator Grupee added that they are making sure that the plaintiff (the Health Officer, under whose custody the items were stolen) be present at the court to back the case.
The defense team, in its argument during the 17th November hearing, accused the caucus of interfering in judicial matters saying, “in judicial matters there should be no political interference.”
There was outrage among the spectators at the court after the prosecution failed again to bring evidence for the prosecution of the case.
Meanwhile, early on 17th November, Presiding Judge Stipendiary Magistrate Meator Nyan Ben warned the citizens to be law abiding instead of making reckless statements about the accused.
“These people are only accused; let’s be law abiding and stop making reckless statements. But if any of you have information as evidence against them you can contact the prosecution,” he said.
The case resumed yesterday, 24th November with prosecution witnesses continuing to give evidence in the matter.