‘Selective Justice’

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Nearly a day to the final judgment in the much talked about US$6 million Private Use Permit (PUP) case involving the dismissed managing director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), Moses Wogbeh and four others including a senior surveyor of the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy (MLME), a defense lawyer last Friday described their trial as one of “selective justice.”
Cllr. Albert Sims of the Sherman and Sherman Law Firm, during his closing argument at Criminal Court ‘C’ contended that the exclusion of Agriculture Minister Florence Chenoweth — who chaired the Board of Directors of the FDA when the alleged act was committed — from being prosecuted was not in the best interest of justice in the country.
The defendants were accused of conspiring to defraud the government of US$6m revenue by facilitating the wrongful and illegal issuance of up to 61 PUP licenses, authorizing commercial logging operations on nearly 2.5 million hectares of land area.
They are being tried on the commission of crimes including economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy and facilitation and counterfeiting, among others, which the defendants denied on the witness stands and argued that the PUP licenses were issued based on Minister Chenoweth’s approval.
Surprisingly, the Special Independent Investigative Body (SIIB), whose recommendation government relied upon to bring criminal charges against the defendants, did not name Minister Chenoweth as a co-defendant. Rather it recommended her for a one-month suspension, which President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf endorsed.
“This is a selective justice,” Cllr. Sims declared and asked the court concerning the way the country’s judiciary is being run.
“She was investigated, but only suspended for one month and they allowed her to go free , while the other people were dismissed and forwarded to court for prosecution for the same crimes,” the defense lawyer wondered.
After putting up his, Cllr. Sims pleaded with Judge Peter Gbeneweleh, saying, “Let the defendants be set free because they did not commit any crime and they should not suffer.”
Judge Gbeweneleh is serving as both judge and jury, after the defense team chose to allow jury from deciding the case.
As of the SIBB’s recommendations, Cllr Sims argued that it was baseless and unsubstantiated on grounds that all of its members were neither lawyers or schooled in criminal investigation.
“Why would the Ministry of Justice make such a huge mistake to allow non lawyer or people, who are not part of any security institution to recommend for criminal prosecution of the defendants,” he pointed out.
According to him, the report was marred with error and falsehood. “This trial and subsequent SIIB request is a waste of resources which would have been used to ensure our people have safe drinking water, electricity and good roads,” Cllr. Sims told the crowded courtroom.

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