Judge Peter W. Gbeneweleh of the 13th Judicial Circuit Court for Margibi County has dismissed the US$247,500 criminal charges brought against the government by four Korean nationals.
The Koreans alleged that the US$247,500 was confiscated by five officers of the National Security Agency (NSA) shortly after they arrived in the country in 2014.
The accused officers are Alexander Graham, Terrance Doe, Railey Forley, Derek Momo and Solomon Nelson.
The Koreans claim the money was intended to buy 16 kilograms of gold at the unit price of US$35,500 (totaling US$568,000) from Nasser Aly, another Korean national, and Cassell Kouh, a Sierra Leonean engaged in the mining and selling of gold in Liberia.
Dismissing the allegation, Judge Gbeneweleh declared that since the Koreans made the payment of US$247,500 to the seller (Nasser Aly) and were no longer in possession of the money, there was no need to make a claim.
“The amount was in the possession of Mr. Aly, who is not the plaintiff in this case, for the refund of the payment, but the buyers who already paid the money to the seller instituted the action of damages for the recovery of said amount plus US$2.5 million as damages,” Judge Gbeneweleh clarified.
He said the plaintiffs have a remedy against Mr. Aly for their gold, which they already paid for before the NSA officers arrested them.
Gbeneweleh added: “The court disagrees with the contention of the plaintiffs that government failed to prosecute the five officers who carried out the arrest of the plaintiffs as recommended by the David Jallah committee report.”
“Therefore, the court holds that the motion meets the statutory requirement of section 26.2 of our civil procedure law under the fact and circumstances.”
According to Gbenewleh, “Evidence before court also showed that the then Minister of Justice and Attorney General declined the payment of US$247,500 as contained in the report of the committee forwarded to the Ministry by the President.
“This court says that the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General is only a cabinet minister in the country who can disagree with the President on the issue of law.”
Gbeneweleh’s action came after the Korean nationals rested their oral and documentary evidences before state lawyers submitted their request.
“The government cannot be liable for the criminal conduct of five officers of the NSA who arrested the Korean nationals for which the Presidential Committee recommended their prosecution,” adding “that restitution is also provided by our law of the said amount if they are found guilty in the court of competent jurisdiction.”
However, Cllr. David A.B. Jallah’s committee recommended that appropriate administrative actions be taken against the five NSA officers who were directly involved in the arrest of the Korean and Sierra Leonean nationals.
The recommendation further said the officers, along with their co-conspirators, Nasser Aly, a Korean national and Cassell Kouh, be handed over to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution.
It also suggested that the government make a refund of US$247,500 to the Koreans which they withdrew from the International Bank (IB) on July 8, 2014, and proceeded directly to the City King Hotel, where they were arrested.
The recommendation was based on the fact that the NSA officers were government employees.
The case started in 2014, when the Korean nationals instituted an Action of Damages against the government for allegedly seizing the money.
They said they were contacted by Aly whom they believed was engaged in the mining and sale of gold in the country and exchanged several e-mails with respect to the purchase of 16 kilograms of gold at the unit price of US$35,500, totaling US$568,000.
They agreed that 50 percent, which is US$284,000, would be paid at the time of the purchase of the gold.
Before their arrival, the Korean nationals reportedly transferred US$247,500 into Aly’s account, which they withdrew and took to City King Hotel in Congo Town, where officers mysteriously appeared and arrested them, along with the money and other properties.