Judge Peabody backs off while County Attorney Martins takes control
Court officers from the Civil Law Court at the Temple of Justice with support from officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP) were on Monday, June 22, successful in arresting a Lebanese businessman and General Manager of Montserrado Group of Industries, Houssel Kaffel, who is at the center of the controversial ‘stolen or hijacked’ container.
Kaffel was arrested following his alleged continued disrespect to the authority of the court, even to a 24-hour ultimatum released by Judge Kennedy Peabody. Judge Peabody’s order was intended for Kaffel to surrender the controversial “stolen/hijacked” container marked AXUI1476111 and its full content believed to be owned by Agid Sariu, Siege Social Madina Dispenser BP 2873, Conakry, Republic of Guinea, over to the court.
Kaffel is the contractor for President Weah’s mansion on 9th Street, which is currently under construction. In a dramatic move on Monday, June 22, Judge Peabody, who had earlier issued the arrest warrant, backed off from his action and subsequently allowed the Montserrado County Attorney, Cllr. Edwin Martins to release Kaffel without surrendering the container. Prior to Kaffel’s unconditional release, Cllr. Martins was openly heard harshly addressing the court officers who had carried out the arrest. “Who ordered you to bring this man here? Don’t you that Kaffel shouldn’t be here?” Martins said, adding “This is a civil matter and nobody should even bring Kaffel here anymore.”
Kaffel was arrested after the Managing Director of the National Port Authority (NPA), Bill Twehway, released the container to his company, Montserrado Group of Industries. Twehway’s action was necessitated by a letter dated June 10, 2020, and signed by Counselor Nyenati Tuan, Acting Minister of Justice and Attorney General.
The court document claimed that the container was loaded on February 28, 2020, and later departed Istanbul, Turkey, for Conakry, Guinea; and on March 1, 2020, it was shipped by Mr. Raze Akhavein, an Iranian born Turkish national general manager of Aria Gida Katku MADD Sanvet TIC, Ltd, based in Turkey.
Minutes after Cllr. Martins released Kaffel, a representative of the Guinean company was heard saying in a firm tone: “Our government is fully behind us and we are just waiting for the decision of Judge Peabody before our government can advise us on the matter.” He, however, refused to speak with journalists.
The record also claimed that the container was tracked to Madrid, Spain and it was discovered that Mr. Raze unlawfully changed documents bearing the name of the original owner and destination to Montserrado Group Industries, Monrovia, Liberia.
It may be recalled that in early May 2020, Acting Justice Minister and Attorney General, Counselor Nyenati Tuan, acknowledged through written communication to National Port Authority Managing Director, Bill Twehway, that a container seized this month at the Free Port of Monrovia was meant for a company known as Agid Sariu, Siege Social Madina Dispenser BP 2873, Conakry, Republic of Guinea. Minister Tuan said a thorough review of documents has revealed that the container was destined for Conakry, the Republic of Guinea, to Agid Sariu Siege Social Madina Dispenser, but surreptitiously found its way to Liberia via tracking details, which act the ministry was investigating.
Minister Tuan’s letter addressed to Twehway, a copy of which is in the possession of the Daily Observer, is titled: “Complaint about Stolen/Hijack of Container #AXIU1476111.” The letter says: ”We present our compliments and herewith submit to your Honorable Office a facsimile copy of dossier relative to the above-captioned case for your attention and subsequent action. We would therefore appreciate were you to hold in abeyance the delivery of the above-mentioned container pending an investigation.” It adds: “Partial review of documents reveals that the container was destined for Conakry, the Republic of Guinea, to Agid Sariu, Siege Social Madina Dispenser BP 2873 … but surreptitiously found its way to Liberia via tracking details. We would therefore appreciate were you to place a halt on the delivery of the container while the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is conducting an investigation pending a final determination of the matter.”
Initially, Minister Tuan on June 3, 2020, just ten days before turning the container over to Lebanese businessman and national Houssel Kaffel, wrote Cllr. Edwin K. Martin, Montserrado County Attorney, outlining several recommendations about the ownership of the container. Tuan’s letter to Cllr. Martin reads: “I write to acknowledge receipt of your June 1, 2020, report submitted to my office as Acting Minister of Justice.” It further reads, ”Having carefully perused various attachments of the source documents and the investigative report inclusive of your findings and recommendation awarding ownership of container AXIU47611 to Montserrado Group of Industries, I am constrained to advance these following concerns or observation. 1. There exists a contract with an offer for acceptance and consideration. To cancel the same, it should be done by mutual consent through the court. 2. That the Guinean Company, which is a party to this agreement, has made substantial payment amounting to US$306,760.45 for the formation of the partnership; 3. There was an offer, acceptance, and consideration which made the consignor the Bailee of the consignee, pending delivery of the goods. 3. The consignor cannot or should not unilaterally cancel the agreement. 4. The container complained of is AXUI1476111 and not AXIU467111 as stated in the investigative report, please see (EXHIBIT 2 in BULK) and other attachment to the complaint.”
Tuan recommended that “In view of the foregoing, I am requesting that the shipper consignee address the concerns raised above, through judicial means so as to establish ownership of container NO AXIU46711.” As a diplomatic intervention earlier, the Guinean Embassy near Monrovia on May 12, 2020, sent a transcript note from the Guinean Ministry of Justice signed by Mamadou Lamine Fofana to the Liberia Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” The letter further reads: “The Embassy of the Republic of Guinea in Liberia presents its compliments to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Liberia and has the honor to transmit a copy of an attached letter N. 022/MJ/SG/CAB/2020, dated May 12, 2020, from the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Guinea addressed to his colleague in Liberia regarding the confiscation of the container No.AXIU1447611 at the Free Port of Monrovia, Liberia.”
The communication continues: “The said container would have been shipped at the port of the Republic of Conakry, Guinea, in conformity with the signed contract on April 27, 2018, between Mr. Balde, the manager of Mufti Agro-Industrial Company and Sarlu of Guinea Law and Mr. Raze Akhavein, the manager of Multi Agro-Industrial Company, Aria, a company established on Turkish law.”
It adds, “With discrepancy, Mr. Reza changed the transit point of the container for it to be shipped in Monrovia with the address of another person, whereby the real proprietor is Mr. Balde, according to the purchasing record attached.” The letter went on to say “The Guinean Justice Minister thanks honestly his colleague of Liberia for the first judicial results recorded in the file and would be pleased to depend on your weight so that the container AXIU can safely arrive in Conakry. All the required documents are herein attached.” The Embassy, the letter said.