A government plea for a change of venue for the trial in the US$284,000 allegedly confiscated from some Korean nationals by officers of the National Security Agency (NSA) on Friday suffered a setback when the Civil Law Court Judge, Yussif Kaba, insisted that the matter should be held in Monrovia, Montserrado County, instead of transferring it elsewhere.
Judge Kaba’s decision came immediately after lawyers representing the Korean businessmen requested the court not to allow the matter to leave Monrovia, where the crime was allegedly committed by the NSA, arguing that their clients would encounter extra expenses if the matter was to be tried outside of Montserrado County.
State lawyers resisted the argument claiming that if the matter was to be held in Monrovia there would be no justice for them, on the grounds that the issue had been heard on various media outlets suggesting that their officers committed the crime.
They also argued that public perceptions could also influence the outcome of the case, especially with the matter being a jury trial; many of whom, according to them, would be selected from Montserrado County.
Judge Kaba, who denied the government’s contention, said the Korean nationals came from a faraway country, and as such, if the court was to allow for a change of venue, it would impose extra financial burden on the foreign nationals.
Judge Kaba named housing, transportation and food as some of the costs the Korean businessmen would incur if the court should allow the matter to be transferred to another county.
The ruling therefore paved the way for the long awaited trial to start shortly in Monrovia, Judge Kaba added.
Although the two Koreans were not present in court for the hearing on Friday, their lawyers fully represented their interest when Judge Kaba denied the state’s request for a change of venue.
In 2014, the NSA confiscated from a group of Korean businessmen, Messrs Jung Dal Park, Chae Dae Byoung, Chold Jung Woo, Cha Kwang Woon and Aleck Gold, without a court order, the amount of US$247,000.
The NSA claimed the cash was ‘counterfeit banknotes,’ and placed it in an escrow account. The remaining US$37,000 was reportedly unaccounted for.
The Korean investors denied the claim and immediately hired the Heritage Law Firm, a Liberian legal entity, to ask the NSA to restitute their money.
In their complaint, the Korean businessmen alleged that they withdrew US$284,000 on bank slips from the International Bank (IB) on July 8, 2014.
They further alleged that while they were going through a business transaction for gold with Nasser Ally, a Lebanese businessman who had invited them to Liberia, the NSA agents, who claimed that the US bills were ‘counterfeit banknotes,’ confiscated their money.
They believe that someone at the IB Bank alerted Fumbah Sirleaf, head of the NSA, who reportedly sent his agents to seize the money.
“Further,” they claimed in their complaint, “our clients have presented to us emails which were exchanged with Mr. Ally prior to their visit to Liberia and were shocked that after they were jointly arrested along with Mr. Ally while transacting business, Fumba Sirleaf allegedly instructed his boys to remove Mr. Ally from the midst of the Koreans to an unknown area. After a while, the plain-clothes security returned and confiscated the money claiming it was counterfeit US banknotes.
“Of course, Ally from that moment, was seen as ‘cooperating’ with the investigators and was never seen again.
“What is mindboggling is that none of our clients or a third party was present when US$49,300 of the US$284,000 was declared as ‘counterfeit notes’ by the same arresting officers who confiscated our clients’ money.”