The ongoing trial at Criminal Court ‘C,’ which centers around seven allegedly stolen vehicles from the United States by a Liberian, Armstrong Tony Campbell, may likely not go as planned if the US Embassy in Monrovia insists that it will not turn over the vehicles to the court.
The non-compliance posture was announced yesterday when state lawyers asked the court to subpoena (compel) the Embassy to make the alleged stolen vehicles available to help them prove their multiple crimes case that includes theft of property, economic sabotage, smuggling, criminal conspiracy and facilitation against Campbell and his co-defendant Sheak A. Brown, general manager of Sheak A. Brown Building Materials, Incorporated of Monrovia.
Yesterday, Judge Yusuf Kaba said he would not issue the subpoena, rather he was going to communicate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to prevail on the embassy to produce the vehicles in question.
“This is a precarious situation to the successful deposition of the matter especially in the absence of those vehicles being under the jurisdiction of the court,” Judge Kaba stated in his ruling.
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 and address it 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 its influence on the Embassy to have those vehicles brought under the court’s jurisdiciton.”
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.
On the embassy’s non-compliance, Kaba said from the date of the commencement of the case up to the present, about a two-week period, the court has ordered the prosecution to produce the vehicles which are subjects to the crimes alleged to have been committed.
However, the criminal court judge said the prosecution had informed the court that the vehicles were under the custody of the US Embassy, a diplomatic mission.
Kaba said the court ordered the prosecution to produce the vehicles which resulted into the state lawyers requesting it to have the Embassy subpoenaed to surrender them.
Besides its unwillingness, it was the Embassy that raised the alarm about the seven vehicles and subsequently asked the government through the customs section of the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) to assist in arresting the vehicles and the defendants.
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 of 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.
“The Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) has been our primary contact in confiscating, detaining and repatriating said vehicles,” the Diplomatic Note stated, adding, “We have had a successful working relationship with the LRA and have ensured the proper rules of law are followed.”
Later, LRA commissioner General Elfrieda Stewart Tamba said while the authority was in the business of collecting lawful revenues for the Liberian people, it was also under legal and lawful obligation to promote fair trade, consistent with its mandate and in keeping with the International Convention on Mutual Assistance in Customs Matters.