Yesterday’s hearing that was expected to provide an opportunity, for the first time, for Criminal Court ‘C’ to take possession of the alleged seven vehicles stolen from the United States did not materialize due to the US Embassy’s unwillingness to surrender the cars to the court.
The embassy was expected to turn over the vehicles, believed to be prosecution’s key evidences, to the court, but that did not happen despite a reported diplomatic intervention by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Meanwhile, Judge Yusif Kaba has given the government up to Friday to ensure that the vehicles are brought under the jurisdiction of the court to continue the case. The charges in the case includes theft of property, economic sabotage, smuggling, criminal conspiracy and facilitation against Armstrong Campbell and his co-defendant Sheak A. Brown, general manager of Sheak A. Brown Building Materials, Incorporated, of Monrovia.
Initially, prosecution wanted the Embassy compelled to surrender the vehicles in question to the court, a request Judge Kaba refused on grounds that he has no legal authority to bring any diplomatic mission under the jurisdiction of the court.
Before his decision, Kaba had issued a week’s ultimatum for prosecution to produce the vehicles; an ultimatum that has long since expired.
A judicial staff at Criminal Court ‘C’ confided in the Daily Observer that it is only the Supreme Court that has the right to deal with the issue of non-cooperation by diplomatic missions in the country.
“The only thing we can do if the embassy does not turn over the evidences is we will dismiss the entire case,” the staff explained.
“What we have to do is to communicate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to forward the court’s request to the embassy; if they have not done that, nobody will blame the court for any decision afterward.”
A member on the prosecution team, who spoke anonymously, said the ministry has already communicated with the embassy. “Maybe the embassy will turn over our prime evidences before the Friday deadline, because the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working with them to have the vehicles brought under the jurisdiction of the court for the case to continue,” the prosecution member stated.
”The embassy would have turned over those vehicles on Tuesday, but because of the celebration of their independence day (July 4), the court could not require them to do so. So we have had to wait and see from now to Friday.”
Earlier, when Judge Kaba refused to accept the prosecution’s request, he said, “This was a precarious situation to the successful deposition of the matter, especially in the absence of those vehicles being under the jurisdiction of the court.”
He noted that “In the wisdom of this court, it has decided not to issue the subpoena requested for by state lawyers,” but that he was instead going to prepare a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the difficulty of disposing the matter, “especially in the absence of those vehicles that are still with the Embassy.”
The letter, he said, “will therefore request the ministry to exert influence on the Embassy to have those vehicles brought under the court’s jurisdiction.”
Judge Kaba, however, explained that under the laws of Liberia, it is required that the vehicles that are prosecution’s key evidence be with the court even before the commencement of the matter, which did not happen.
It may be recalled that in 2016, the US Embassy wrote the Liberian government through the Foreign Ministry seeking assistance for the immediate transfer of the stolen vehicles to the United States.
In their letter, the embassy claimed that the vehicles included two 2016 Mercedes Benz, two Jeeps (a Grand Cherokee and Wrangler, both 2016 model), a 2014 Toyota Rav V4, a 2016 Dodge Ram 1500 (2016), and a 2016 Audi Q5.
In a Diplomatic Note, the embassy said the United States has had a history of vehicles being stolen and illegally transported to Liberia and other West African countries.