-AFL Deputy Chief of Staff Geraldine George testifies
As government’s prosecuting arm expresses its enthusiasm broadly to prosecute and hold some former officials, including former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai, accountable for alleged misapplication of public funds and assets, Armed Forces Deputy Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Geraldine George, who is one of the prosecution’s witnesses, has testified in the tone that seems to corroborate former Minister Samukai’s testimony.
Testifying on Monday, February 24, as the government’s (prosecution) special witness in the ongoing US$1.9 million that was said to have been withdrawn and used outside of the purpose for which the “Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) Pension Account” was established, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the AFL said though portion of the money was not used for the wellbeing of the soldiers, President George Weah assured them that he was going to pay back the expended amount.
In her testimony at the Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice, witness Geraldine J. George explained that President Weah said he was going to make sure the payment is made through budgetary allocation, beginning 2018.
The account was established in 2009 as a compulsory contributory savings fund, which deducted salaries from all ranks of the AFL to serve as a supplementary pension benefit to provide assistance to wounded soldiers and to families of deceased soldiers.
But the government has pressed multiple charges that include money laundering against former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai and his two co-defendants, Joseph Johnson, Deputy Minister for Administration and Nyumah Dorkor, Comptroller General, who were signatory to that account.
The prosecution also claims that the US$50,000 that was withdrawn from the soldiers’ pension account at Ecobank-Liberia as an assistance to the family of the Late Nigerian General Abdurrahman was wasteful spending because, according to the government’s lawyers, Late Abdurrahman was not a contributor to that account and, as such, his family should not have benefited from money that was deducted from the salaries of soldiers of the AFL for that purpose.
Further to her testimony, General George said, “President Weah gave the assurance that his government was willing to pay back the money at a meeting with the committee she headed that was responsible to investigate circumstances surrounding the withdrawal of the money from their account at Ecobank-Liberia.
General George said that during her committee’s meeting with President Weah, he (president Weah) was very much interested in knowing why the issue of the soldiers’ money was not handled by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s administration, “but we did not provide an answer to the President’s question.”
Shortly afterward, witness George, in her testimony, quoted President Weah by saying, “he said he was going to pay-back the army’s money through budgetary allotment.”
The Deputy Chief of Staff was also prevented by the prosecution lawyer from answering to the defense lawyers’ concern as to whether or not she has any knowledge that President Weah has made a payment to the soldiers’ account at Ecobank-Liberia.
The prosecution’s reason to prevent witness George from answering the question was because she was not a signatory to that account; for it is the Ministries of Defense and the Finance and Development Planning, clothed with the authority to provide such information.
That question raised a serious debate between the defense and the prosecution; however, Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay ruled that the Deputy Chief of Staff should not respond to the matter but the two ministries — Defense and Finance and Development Planning.
Again when the Deputy Chief of Staff was asked by the defense lawyers to explain her committee’s recommendation about payment of the used portion of the money, which the prosecution is holding Samukai and his co-defendants responsible to refund, witness George’s responded: “When we did this report, we did not do it that an individual should refund the money, rather the Government of Liberia should do so. The prosecution’s witness could not comment any further.
Witness George also explained that the entire issue started during the transitional period, at which time former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was about to turn the country over to current President George Weah, which period the officers were so curious to know the status of their pension fund since those who were signatories to the account were going to be replaced.
While trying to counter check, she said, it was when they discovered that about US$700,000 was left in the account out of the US$1.9M, which amount balance led to the setting-up of her committee to investigate how the remaining money was used.
“The money was not personally used by any of the defendants, but it was used for unrelated issue,” the state witness said.
Again when asked to explain why none of the high commands of the AFL was not a signatory to the account, but the defendants, Witness George response, “I do not know.”
Asked whether there was any policy regarding the withdrawal of the money from the pension’s account, “the prosecution witness replied, “There has been no approved policy concerning this pension fund.”
Meanwhile, the court has summoned the Minister of Defense, Retired General Daniel Ziankahn, who was the Chief of Staff of the AFL when the pension funds was established, as well as Major General Prince C. Johnson, III, Chief of Staff, to appear today, Tuesday, February 25, to testify in the matter.
Samukai had repeatedly admitted to the payment transaction, arguing that said payment was made with the approval of then Commander-In-Chief of the AFL, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. However, the current government is now claiming that the transaction was far from the purpose of the account, named and styled: “Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) Pension Account” at Ecobank-Liberia.
Samukai had repeated that the decisions reached between former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and President George Manneh Weah, during series of meetings held together between January 13 and 17, 2018 and with the leadership of the AFL, was that the incoming government would refund all funds spent from the AFL Welfare Fund.
Samukai also argues that on January 17, 2018, President George Weah, then President-elect, held a meeting at his residence in Rehab, Paynesville, with him along with senior leadership of the AFL, where they discussed the outstanding issue of refund of the AFL Welfare Fund, and President Weah confirmed and reiterated in that meeting that he and Madam Sirleaf had met and discussed the situation and agreed to refund all money spent on the AFL from Welfare Fund during the passage of the 2018 budget.
Despite Samukai’s explanation and documentary evidence established between the former President Sirleaf and President Weah, that from the 2018 budget the government would refund the money, the prosecution is persistent in prosecuting the former Defense Minister and now requesting the AFL Generals to testify in the matter.