Normal activities were disrupted at the Temple of Justice on Thursday, August 15, 2019, when a group of unarmed people, who were said to be pre-dominantly employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) reportedly attacked bailiffs from the Monrovia City Court and hijack.
The bailiffs were enforcing the order of Magistrate Ernest Bana by taking Passport Director Andrew Wonploe to Monrovia Central Prison (MCP).
The attack on the bailiffs began shortly after Magistrate Bana authorized his officers to proceed with Wonploe to the Monrovia Central Prison until his lawyer can file new bond, because the court denied his first bond for insufficiency, meaning the money posted on the bond was not enough.
Bana’s action was a result of his refusal to approve the criminal appearance bond filed by Wonploe’s legal team, thereafter, mandating the bailiffs to remand Wonploe at the central prison. It was then that the officers were attacked outside of the courtroom by the angry employees and some supporters of the passport director on their way to the prison compound on South Beach.
Wonploe will now have to secure a new bond before the court can release him from further detention but, only if Magistrate Bana is satisfied with the bond. However, due to the “thugs'” actions against the bailiffs, it is not clear whether Wonploe entered the prison.
Officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP) took him to the court, after investigating him for 48 hours, and subsequently charged him with “economic sabotage, misapplication of entrusted property, and tampering with public records.”
Wonploe’s charges were based on his alleged passport scheme, which the police claimed had caused the government to lose over US$25,000 in revenue.
According to an eyewitness, the angry employees physically jumped on the bailiffs and grabbed Wonploe, who was then released from handcuffs and from the hands of the court’s officers, shoved into a white Toyota Camry, which sped away with him out of the Temple of Justice courtyard, to the disbelief of many of the bystanders.
Up to the publication of this story, last night, there was no information as to whether Wonploe’s sympathizers finally surrendered him to the central prison, since none of the bailiffs were allowed to enter the vehicle, which his supporters had occupied.
“They almost knocked the bailiffs down with the car,” a terrified bystander (not named) was heard telling her colleagues; attributing the scenario to the weakness in the country’s justice system.
Another eyewitness described yesterday’s incident as “lawlessness to the highest, especially in the compound of the Supreme Court.”
“How will supporters of an accused disrespect the court in this way?” the eyewitness wondered, adding, “Where is this country heading to now?”
The police investigation also claimed that in July of this year, and before defendant Wonploe was arrested in August, 4,250 pieces of blank Liberian passports were entrusted to the Passport and Bureau of Vital Statistics that was under the supervision of Wonploe as passport director.
That out of the 4,250 blank passports under the custody of the Passport Department, 4,180 booklets were recorded issued to applicants (Accounted for), while 70 pieces were reported “damaged.”
“That out of the 70 pieces reportedly damaged, 66 other booklets could be traced, while four of them could not be accounted for,” the court’s document quoted the investigative report.
Besides, the court record claims that 17 booklets of birth certificates were illegally issued to individuals without any payment to the government.
According to the police, during a search and seizure exercise that was sanctioned by the court, they confiscated one fake birth certificate belonging to a Kafumba Dukuly, and seven “blank passports” from the home of Wonploe.
Moreover, the document claims that while the fact remains that the birth certificates and passports were confiscated from Wonploe’s residence, they were public documents and, as such, all of these should and must remain at the ministry, not at the home of the Wonploe, a mere director in charge of passports.
However, the record alleges that Wonploe denied the allegation of the passports scandal, but admitted to the birth certificates and passports being confiscated from his home.
Meanwhile, police have also charged a Nigerian national, Adedoyin Atiroko in connection with the passports scam involving the director.
Though the police probe, did not link Wonploe to Atiroko’s accusation, it said Atiroko was engaged in impersonating an official of the MoFA.
Atiroko was allegedly said to have engaged in soliciting money from Liberians, and non-Liberians purporting as someone, who had authority to award travel opportunities to applicants.
Atiroko also used his scheme to dupe his victims of over US$100,000, according to the record.
The case continues.