Prosecution Clashes with Judge Gbeneweleh

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On trial for alleged bribery, as claimed by Global Witness in the Sable Mining case (clockwise): Sen. Varney Sherman, J. Alex Tyler, Dr. Eugene Shannon, PPCC Chairman Willie Belleh, and Senator Morris Saytumah.

In US$950K Global Witness Case  

Judge Peter Gbeneweleh of Criminal Court ‘C’ presiding as both jury and judge over the Global Witness report which alleged that several public officials received over US$950,000 in bribes through Sable Mining’s Liberian lawyer, Senator Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County on Monday, July 22, appeared “very tough” at the prosecutors, when the judge was heard repeatedly questioning them to keep the case moving forward, and to explain matters he considers relevant.

The payment, the Global Witness claimed, was to alter Liberia’s Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) law, which would have enabled the officials to award the Wologizi Mountain in Lofa County to Sable without any competitive bidding process.

Prosecutors’ frustration with Judge Gbeneweleh’s concern about the legality surrounding the government’s acquisition of the email and spreadsheet evidence from executives of Sable Mining in South Africa spilled out publicly in a series of sensitive clashes in which Gbeneweleh insisted that one of the prosecutors, Jerry D.K. Garlarwolu, provides detailed explanation. But Garlarwolu at times lashed back at the judge, something lawyers rarely do.

Garlarwolu’s frustration came as Judge Gbeneweleh was hearing final legal arguments between the prosecution and the defense lawyers, after which arguments the judge reserved his judgment for Tuesday, July 31, 2019.

Garlarwolu had earlier argued that they received the email and spreadsheet evidence from the Global Witness that had also alleged they obtained the document from then country director of Sable Mining, Heine Van Neikerk.

The report named some of the officials, who allegedly received bribes as former Speaker Alex Tyler, $75,000 for “consulting fees,” Richard Tolbert, chairman of the NIC, US$50,000 for “consulting fees,” Morris Saytumah, then Minister of State for Finance, Economic and Legal Affairs, now a senator, US$50,000 for “consulting fees,” and Willie Belleh, then PPCC chairman, $10,000 for “consulting fees.”

Minutes after Garlarwolu rested with the accusation, tensions flared to the extent that Judge Gbeneweleh took issue with the statement, questioning Garlarwolu whether the pieces of evidence were acquired legally.

“Were there any search warrant or subpoenas obtained for the evidence to be used in court?” Gbeneweleh asked.

But Garlarwolu replied in the negative, answering further, “our investigators informed us that they collected the documents from Paul O. Sallivan in South Africa, because Sallivan also off-loaded the documents from the computer of Heine Van Neikerk.”

Again, Gbeneweleh asked Garlarwolu: “Was that legally acquired? And why did Sallivan and Neikerk not come here to testify to the document?

Garlarwolu again complained,” Why is there too much unnecessary technicality in the case?”

Garlarwolu further said that Klaus Piprek informed the investigators in South Africa that two of the biggest payments allegedly went to the then Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy, Eugene Shannon, Deputy Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy Ernest C.B. Jones in the amount of $250,000 each.

When asked why they did not ensure the appearance of Piprek to testify to authenticate the statement, Garlarwolu responded: ”That was our investigation report, and so you can rule on the documents that are before you.

The investigation also claimed that on August 6, 2010, Speaker Tyler attempted to insert the controversial Section 75 into the PPCC Act to render Wologizi Mountain a non-bidding concession area.

However, another investigation report claimed that former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed into law the PPCC Act on August 5, 2010. When asked to explain about the contradiction, Garlarwolu replied: ”This is what we say, so you have the report with you; accept it and rule anyway you think, but stop the technicality in the case. Just rule according to your decision.”

Global Witness bribery scandal indicted Senator Sherman along with former speaker Alex Tyler, the former Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy (now Mines and Energy), Eugene Shannon; former Deputy Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy, Ernest C.B. Jones; Morris Saytumah, former Minister of State for Finance, Economic and Legal Affairs, now a Senator of Bomi County; Willie Belleh, former PPCC chairman; and a Nigerian businessman Christopher Onanuga.

The defendants are facing charges of bribery, economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy, criminal solicitation and criminal facilitation. Prosecutors are asking for the maximum sentence for 15 years in prison.

12 COMMENTS

  1. The fidelity of this case or lack thereof as exemplified in the presiding judge’s disposition, already points to a “Not guilty” verdict. And this is exactly what happens and is impacting the integrity of the judicial system in general in Liberia, when our lawyers and judges are all former classmates, colleagues and graduates of the same law school, or is it “law farm?” Unless Liberian lawyers and judges vow to uphold the rule of law and no matter the affinity to party litigants, our courts or judicial system is “F for G,” as we say.

  2. Let us forget for a fraction of moment that this politically-motivated case was initiated by EJS, who had stopped Justice Minister Tar’s investigation and prosecution of NSA officials (in cahoots with a Lebanese merchant) that shamelessly robbed two Koreans of U.S. $150, 000. Let us forget that in furtherance of a cover-up she ordered LNP’s ERU units to raid offices of “The Chronicle” newspaper which dared reporting on the national scandal. Let us leave the usual Liberian frivolous talk, and look at the core issue of Judge Gbeneweleh’s rightful outrage: Admissibility of evidence in court.

    The truth of the matter is that “evidence improperly or illegally obtained, for example, the email and spreadsheets that are regarded as pieces of documentary evidence the prosecution relied on to prove the case couldn’t pass smell test of ‘admissible evidence’. And the South African officials of Sable Mining who supposedly downloaded copies neither appeared in court to testify to their authenticity, nor had them notarized.

    Of course, the upshot was that Judge Gbeneweleh had right to “question the legality surrounding the government’s acquisition” of those documents, and to find out whether they were acquired legally. Just like if police officers enter a man’s house or car without his permission, or a search warrant, and anything discovered cannot be used as evidence against him, so too are hacked virtual documents such as emails.

    By the way, in the absence of those South Africans and documents not notarized as genuine, they are considered hearsay evidence, hence inadmissible. The prosecution has onus of proving its case beyond all reasonable doubts, but all the defense needs to do is inject a modicum of doubt. And, unquestionably, it succeeded, so throw the rubbish out. Ellen & CO still believe that after slaughtering multitudes and ignobly enriching themselves, they will continue using others as scapegoats for puerile propaganda purposes – no way!

    • Totally false, this case was initiated by Global Witness….get your facts straight before backing your corrupt friends…

  3. Judges in Liberia including the present judge are just corrupt. There is no justice in this case. The judge has taken side. This therefore makes him the judge, jury, and executioner. Poor Liberia, this is another case that will go down the dust bin of history. Mark my words. Judge Gbeneweleh will bring down the “Not Guilty” verdict in-favor of the accused. What a sad day for Liberia.

  4. The attempt at reverse psychology of our last commenter won’t work with Judge Gbeneweleh.

    If it comes down to a “not guilty” decision, the reason was the impossibility of prosecution lawyers proving beyond reasonable doubt a case based bigly on botched evidence. For instance, goons can’t hack into a computer; steal documents; send same to Global Witness; which returns them; and then gotcha! After almost 172 years, let’s change our behavior, people: Score-settling led to the savagery of the civil conflict.

  5. I am not a lawyer, so I dont attempt to understand the legal technicality of what is going on. I just have a question for Uncle Moses, The points that the judge raised, I thought it was it was the defense team that should have put forth that argument or was the judge right in doing so?

    • Exactly my point, Joe Moses. And the very reason or rationale for Cllr. Garlarwolu’s exasperation with judge Gbeneweleh’s unorthodox stance in this case. One wonders why didn’t “judge” Gbeneweleh throw that particular evidence out as “inadmissible” and for the reasons he proffered later, way at the end of the trial? Something very unsettling and finicky about that. And this other discredited hired goon , aka Sylvester Baghdad Moses, wants to preach about what to us? The sanctity of evidence? How about he finds money to brace those scattered teeth in his mouth, than insulting our intelligence with this other pandering lecture about the fidelity of an evidence. Because in the realm of reciprocity one could be tempted to ask Mr. Baghdad Moses, what evidence did he and fellow goons have against the hundreds of innocent people they lied on during the Doe tyranny, which wanton killings culminated into the revulsion and vengeance that characterized our uncivil war? Can Baghdad Moses talk about that too? It will never happen and why? Because even as the coldblooded murderer he is, his remaining conscience supersedes whatever the malevolence at times.

  6. These jokers calling themselves judges and judges, who following et executing “man-made rules” will, in a short time space, be brought (by force) before the “Absolute Judge” of all judges, for accountability as to all they did, are doing and shall do. It’s only a question of a blink of time!
    //Gonyanue Blah

  7. Journalist alias Jay Moses, ridiculing, slandering, and abusing someone whose perspective you disagree with doesn’t make you humorous, or smart; it speaks to upbringing. I didn’t know your parents, and am not interested in being a freaking uncle to you even in jest.

  8. Wow, Hilary Snyder, Joe Moses, and so on, I don’t know how many aliases John Stewart uses just for swaying every conversation. Perhaps, it’s a tactic to provoke and run off critical voices from this platform.

    • Why you believe I, Hilary Snyder, or other posters here you consider your nemesis are the same as Mr. H. J. Stewart, are beyond reason but inarguably the byproduct of a one cell brain internet troll. Mr. Stewart happens to be the editor of a newspaper, a renown and prestigious one at that. A paper noted for speaking truth to power and irrespective of the personal consequences to the reporters and/or owners as you will recall during your notorious days as NSA Liar-in-Chief. Plus Mr. Stewart himself has written scathing articles upon scathing articles over his life time from as far back as the Tolbert years, challenging even tyrants like your erstwhile idol Gen. Samuel Doe, with such gustoes and fearlessness that could have ended his life at the snap of a finger yet, he didn’t flinch or budge an inch in the face of all those dangers and all of a sudden he will now demean that admirable or enviable reputation by hiding behind pseudonyms to size up gigger flea like you for the trivialities if not tautologies you spew here daily? Mr. Stewart is no spineless pernicious coward like you, Mr. Baghdad Moses. The dosage of your psychotropic medications must need uppage in that regard, as it appears your 77 years senility is getting the best of you and it’s becoming glaring with each passing day with these prattles. The sooner the better, Mr. Baghdad Moses.

  9. À point of self-correction: I meant to write/say, calling themselves “judges and lawyers” and not, judges and judges, and “who are following”, but not, who following! Thanks for your understanding!! Gonyanue

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