Prosecutor Mocks Ex- FDA Managers

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In a slow, calm yet confident voice, the Solicitor General (SG), Cllr. Betty Lamin Blamo, yesterday afternoon argued that the dismissed managing director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), Moses Wogbeh, was guilty and mocked the defense case, producing much laughter in the courtroom.
“This is a court of Law,” Cllr. Blamo said. “We have argued our case well and you have to find the defendants guilty and prescribe harsh punishment to serve as a deterrent and have them restitute the US$6m,” she told Judge Peter Gbeneweleh who is presiding as both judge and jury in the case.
Final ruling of the case has been scheduled for next Tuesday.
“They rushed to eat money because they thought that election was coming and they were skeptical whether they were going to retain their respective positions in the next government, so they decided to misuse the PUPs,” the SG told the court.
Wogbeh, together with four other co-defendants including a senior Surveyor of the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy (MLME), is accused of conspiring to defraud the government of revenue, by facilitating the wrongful and illegal issuance of up to 61 PUPs that authorized commercial loggings operations on nearly 2.5 million hectares of land area in Liberia
Using much of her intense 25 minutes closing arguments at Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice to expose some of the defendants alleged “dubious deals,” Cllr. Blamo said, the defendants issued PUP licenses to logging companies that were operating on community deeded forest lands which, she claimed, should have been issued under the Community Rights Law (2009).
Community Forest Lands, she said, are governed and regulated by the Community Rights Law of 2009. “Knowing full well that PUPs should only be issued to private landowners, the defendants, in contravention of Sections 5.6 (d) and 18.9(b) of the National Forestry Reform Law of 2006, and 2.3(b) of the Community Rights Law, deprived the communities of revenue and the government of land rental.”
According to her, the law provides that if a company wants to operate under the community forest land, they have to first apply to the Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) and also go through a bidding process, and if successful, such company will pay a yearly land rental fee to government.
“It also exempts companies holding the PUPs from paying land rental fees to government. Instead, the fees go directly to the private land owners,” the SG contended, quoting the law.
“This is how they started to rob the innocent people and government of their needed revenues by using PUP licenses to operate on community deeded forest land,” she told the court.
More beside, she alleged that the defendants ignored the moratorium announced by government preventing companies from shipping logs out of the country and on logging activities throughout the country.
In their closing argument, the defense team said the defendants were innocent of the charges levied against them because prosecution witness failed to prove their case.
The defense further argued that their clients acted under the law when they issued PUP licenses to companies.
According to the team, co-defendant Wogbeh prior to issuance of the permits, followed the procedures set up to do so.
“Wogbeh did nothing wrong because all of the companies that applied for the PUP license documents did so through the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy and were approved by the chair of the board of directors of the FDA before such companies were allowed to do logging in the country,” lead defense counsel, Albert Sims told the court.
He denied the contention of the SG that the defendants violated the presidential moratorium placed on shipment of logs from the country.
“They did not ignore the ban, instead it was the Supreme Court that instructed them to do so, and it was not done by themselves,” Cllr. Sims argued.


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