There was tension yesterday in the courtroom of Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice between Cllr. Othello Payman – a government lawyer – and Judge Peter Gbeneweleh during which, the prosecutor publicly issued threatening statements against the judge.
The situation nearly went out of hand after Judge Gbeneweleh ruled in favor of defendant Jusufu Morris Keita, former documentation and communication director of the Ministry of Public Works (MPW) charged with US$12,600 theft.
Keita was accused of criminally creating an opportunity with one David Kortee, the owner of Flash Point Consultancy, a media group to defraud government of the amount of US$12,000.
Defendant Keita was said to have recommended to the management of the MPW to contract the Flash Point management to provide media consultancy work for the ministry, which they claimed the consultancy group collected US$12,600 and failed to do the job.
Prior to the commencement of the case, government lawyers asked the court to drop charges against one of the accused, David Kortee.
At the hearing yesterday, Judge Gbeneweleh dismissed the case without allowing defendant Keita to at least take the witness stand to testify in his own defense after prosecution rested with the production of its witnesses and evidences.
According to Judge Gbeneweleh, his action was based on a “Motion for Judgment of Acquittal,” filed before him by lawyers representing defendant Keita.
Immediately after Judge Gbeneweleh’s decision, Cllr. Payman, who is one of the lawyers of the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission (LACC) that charged Keita with the allegation, repeatedly said, “This is the beginning of the journey that I wanted.
Several rulings you have been making in this court, since you took over, I say this one would be a different case for you to handle.”
In response, Judge Gbeneweleh wished Cllr. Paymah a safe journey to the Supreme Court, adding, “I am not afraid to go before judges at the Supreme Court. Take me there.”
Judge Gbeneweleh was the same judge, who ruled last week in favor of suspended National Port Authority (NPA) Managing Director Matilda Parker in her US$1.2 million bond saga.
He also ruled against government in the treason case involving the late General Charles Julu of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), as well as in the recent case involving officials of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL).
In his August 18, 2015 ruling, Judge Gbeneweleh declared that “the motion for judgment of acquittal should be and the same is hereby granted and government resistance is denied.”
He added, “The defendant, Jusufu Morris [Keita] is hereby discharged from further answering the charges of economic sabotage, misapplication of entrusted property and criminal conspiracy.”
In addition to dismissing the case against Keita, Judge Gbeneweleh also announced the restoration of Mr. Keita’s fundamental rights with immediate effect. He immediately ordered the Sheriff of the court to return his bail bond with immediate effect.”
Further in his ruling, the Criminal Court Judge said, “The evidence before this court is not sufficient and conclusive to establish the guilt of defendant Jesefu Morris Keita.”
According to him, “the prosecutions also failed to produce before the court David Kortee to establish before it allegation that he conspired with defendant Keita to defraud government of US$12,600.”
He ruled that the testimony of Kortee as a co-conspirator in the case is material to establish the allegation connivance, conspiracy and collusion between him (Kortee) and defendant Keita.
He added, “It is also interesting to note that the MPW was subpoenaed before the court to make available original documents relative to the contract.”
But, according to him, “the ministry in its letter dated July 24, informed this court that it was experiencing some challenges in finding the documents and shall submit same as soon as they can be located. They have not submitted said document to the Court up to the date of this ruling.”
In the LACC report, the anti graft institution said they received the information from a whistle blower, who was only identified as Acting Assistant Director for Communication at the MPW.
Upon hearing the allegation, the LACC claimed they proceeded with an investigation and found out that the total financial value of the contract was US$12,600 payable by three installments upon the issuance of certificate by the MPW, certifying that 100 percent of the services have been satisfactorily rendered.
“In this case, payment voucher dated July 1, 2010, was raised and sent to the Ministry of Finance (MOF) for payment to the Flash Point before certificate of completion was issued on July 2, 2010,” the court records quoted the LACC.
The record further quoted the LACC testimonies saying, “the Government of Liberia did pay to the Flash Point through its chief executive officer (CEO), David Kortee, the amount of US$12,600 upon receipt of payment voucher MPW-409-000-356 on July 1, 2010.”
The LACC said the contract was entered into on May 1, 2010, and procurement meeting was held at the MPW and chaired by Johnson N. Gwaikolo, then deputy for Administration on June 1, 2010, during which it was agreed that the Flash Point be hired for media consultancy.
They also recommended for Kortee to be made to restitute the US$12,600, because, as they claimed, “there was no indication with all the investigations that the contract was executed in line with the provision and timetable as stipulated under the agreement to offer media service to the MPW by Flash Point.