It remains unclear as to whether or not Solicitor General Cllr. Saymah Syrenius Cephus would recuse himself in the economic sabotage case, involving former managing director of the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA), Ellen Corkurm and several others including Musa Bility, former board chair of the authority, due to his (Cephus’) early role played that is perceived by legal experts as ‘conflict of interest.’
Conflict of interest is a situation in which an individual has competing interests or loyalties because of his or her duties to more than one person or organization, according to a senior Supreme Court lawyer. “A person with a conflict of interest can’t do justice to the actual or potentially conflicting interests of both parties,” the lawyer disclosed.
Corkrum, while serving as Managing Director, the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration claimed, conspired with several other co-defendants including the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) to procure the transfer of US$US$269,000.00 of public funds to a fictitious company, Diaspora Consulting, LLC (Diaspora), and to its CEO, Mr. Momar Dieng, her friend from the Kennedy School and the Harvard University, for work that he and his company did not perform.
However, a certified document obtained by the Daily Observer showed that Cllr. Cephus, while in his private legal practice, served as the lead lawyer for then co-defendant LBDI and, at the time, influenced the charges against the bank to be dropped because he knew about the purpose and objective for which the charges were to be dismissed against Cehpus’ client, LBDI.
At that time Counselor Cehpus allegedly convinced his client, the LBDI, to enter into an arrangement that would see the government dropping the charges against the LBDI through Criminal Court ‘C’, with the only basis that LBDI was to cooperate and serve as a witness in the case was for the government to enter nolle prosequi in their favor, which was done.
It was on this basis, the document showed, that the charges were dropped against the LBDI specifically without prejudice to the government. Dismissal without prejudice means if LBDI did not cooperate, and the government reserved the right to re-file charges against the bank.
Apparently, Cehpus is not aware that he had played significantly part when the matter was brought to the attention of the public, when he served as a lawyer of then co-defendant, LBDI.
Interestingly, Cephus recently communicated with the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission asking that anti-graft body for an immediate re-investigation of the matter, where he has served as a lawyer of co-defendant LBDI.
Cehpus’ communication, dated February 3, 2020, was addressed to the head of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, Cllr. Ndubuisi Nwabudike.
The letter reads, “We present our compliments and have the honor to forward herewith the attached case file involving Madam Ellen Corkrum, Musa Bility and members of the Board of Directors of RIA and a number of commercial banks which were investigated, others dropped and some were subsequently indicted for “Economic Sabotage, Theft of Property, Criminal conspiracy, and Misapplication of entrusted funds.”
It continues: “A careful review of the records of the case shows that the previous government entered a Nolle Prosequi in favor of a number of defendants involved in this matter prior to our ascendancy, and we in recent times did the same due to the absence of Madam Corkrum and to avoid being seen as pursuing a “selective prosecution.”
Further, “we also noticed that a sole source recommendation was made by our predecessor Cllr. Betty Lamin Blamo, to hire a US-based firm, Fox Rothschild, to which US$200,000 (Two Hundred Thousand Dollars) that was allegedly paid to Fox Rothschild to have Madam Corkrum brought back to Liberia.”
Finally, the letter recommended: “investigation should take into consideration the legal basis for the former Solicitor General Betty Lamin-Blamo recommending a sole source bid or selection of Fox Rothschild recommending a sole source bid or selection of Fox Rotschild, what became of the extradition proceedings if any among them.”
However, another lawyer claims that the conduct of Cllr. Cephus (now solicitor general), who had previously represented his client, LBDI, in this matter, without recusing himself, deliberately obscured the fact of the lawyer-client relationship with LBDI.
The question remains: is the act of Cllr. Cehpus is it a gross conflict of interest in breach of Rules 8 and 9 of the Code for the Moral and Ethical Conduct of Lawyers?
The indictment also alleges that Corkrum authorized the illegal transfer of US$56,750 of LAA funds to her romantic partner Melvin Johnson and his firm, Melvin Johnson and Associates (a law firm in the State of Georgia, United States of America), allegedly for services rendered in connection with the security system at Roberts International Airport (RIA), which services were neither performed by Johnson or his firm.
The transfer was carried out by First International Bank (“FIB”) through its then-Head of Operations Mr. Jeremi Tegli and another officer (Mr. Justin Ogugua), at Ms. Corkrum’s behest, despite the fact that the application for transfer did not contain the requisite authorizing signatures.
Ms. Corkrum obtained authority from the LAA Board to purchase certain computer equipment for the Board. She obtained access to US$19,480 in LAA funds. However, she delivered to the LAA no more than $8,500 worth of equipment. The balance – at least US$10,980 – remains unaccounted for.