The ongoing case fo the US$1.9 million that was said to have been withdrawn and used by former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai and two other co-defendants outside of the purpose for which the “Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) Pension Account” was established, took a dramatic twist on Thursday, March 12, with the defense team now asking Criminal Court ‘C’ to allow President George Weah’s testimony.
The request for President Weah‘s appearance resulted from the testimonies of Samukai and Joseph P. Johnson, former defense minister for administration, where they claimed that the President made a commitment that he was going to repay the money.
They further testified that true to the President’s words, Weah, in December 2018, approved and ordered the Ministry of Finance to pay US$460,000 as portion of the US$1.9 million into the Ministry of Defense‘s accounts at the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), despite the government lawyers’ (prosecution) contention that the defendants allegedly misapplied the funds.
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, that the prosecution claimed was used outside of the purpose for which it was established.
Shortly afterwards, Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay reserved his ruling for today, Friday, March 13, to determine as to whether President Weah should appear before him to testify into the matter.
Further in their submission, the defense lawyers requested Judge Gbeisay to issue a Subpoena Ad Testificandum, meaning to compel an individual to appear before it at a specified time to give testimony to be served on the Minister of State for President Weah to appear before the court to give testimony on behalf of the defendants to the effect that the government has started restituting the money.
In counter-reaction, the prosecution argued that the request is unconstitutional and unprecedented in the history of the country’s judiciary and therefore, it should be denied and dismissed.
They also argued that, it violates Article 61 of the 1986 Constitution.
The article provides: “The President shall be immune from any suits, actions or proceedings, judicial or otherwise, and from arrest, detention or other actions on account of any act done by him while President of Liberia pursuant to any provision of this Constitution or any other laws of the Republic. The President shall not, however, be immune from prosecution upon removal from office for the commission of any criminal act done while President.”
“The application is in total violation of the article on grounds that this is a criminal trial and it, therefore, construes to be a proceeding which the constitution forbids the President from participating, and so, the request by the defense should be ignored and denied,” the prosecution said in their argument.
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.