US$6M PUPs Controversial Ruling, Guilty, But No Jail for Wogbeh, Others

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Disagreement erupted yesterday evening in the courtroom of Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice when prosecution rejected a ruling of Judge Peter Gbeneweleh that failed to send dismissed Forestry Development Authority (FDA) Managing Director Moses Wogbeh and four others to jail for economic sabotage.
nstead, the ruling allowed the accused to restitute the US$6 million, but the judge did not say how they would restitute such a huge sum of money they misapplied.
Under the law, if a person is guilty of economic sabotage that person is sent to jail for ten years, fined and made to restitute the money said to have been misapplied.
Rather, Judge Gbeneweleh declared the defendants guilty and only ordered them to restitute the US$6 million raised from the illegal issuance of 61 Private Use Permits (PUPs), which authorized logging companies to operate on 1.2 million hectares of farmland throughout the country.
In the ruling, Judge Gbeneweleh further declared that “the defendants are hereby ordered by the court to restitute the amount of US$6 million to the government and the people of Liberia, failing which, the Clerk of Court is hereby ordered to prepare a commitment and place same in the hands of the Sheriff to have them detained for the period of five years in the common jail of Montserrado County or any suitable prison facility in the country.”
He also did not mention when the defendants would be required to restitute the US$6 million for his Sheriff to take to detain them (defendants) in a common jail in the country, neither did he say how the defendant would raise said amount.
It was the dramatic ruling that prosecution opposed and asked to take the matter to the Full Bench of the Supreme Court, a request that was granted by Judge Gbeneweleh immediately following his decision.
The ruling has been postponed on several occasions by Judge Gbeneweleh, who had ruled against government since his ascendency as judge of that court.
Wogbeh together with his principal deputies John Kantor, Maxwell Gwee, Jangar Kamara and David Blayee (a surveyor at the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy) were accused of multiple crimes, including obtaining and issuing deceptive writings, obstruction of government functions by public servants and economic sabotage.
Their action caused government to lose an amount of US$6 million in revenue intake. Instead the defendants claimed that it was their board chair, the former Agriculture Minister Florence Chenoweth, who authorized and approved the issuance of the 61 permits to logging companies.
It is not clear whether or not Former Minister Chenoweth’s recent resignation has anything to do with her implication into the PUPs saga since the judge did not say anything to that effect though she was accused of sanctioning the payment of the PUPs funds.
Further in his ruling, Judge Gbeneweleh, who served as both jury and judge, declared, “co-defendants David Blayee and Maxwell Gwee are guilty of the crime of obtaining and issuing deceptive writings, while co-defendant Moses Wogbeh and co-defendant Jangar Kamara are both guilty of the crime of obstructing government function by public servant.”
According to the ruling, all four co-defendants are guilty for the crime of economic sabotage in the amount of US$6 million.
The ruling also agreed that illegal issuance of the 61 PUPs by the administration of Moses Wogbeh as well as the verification of the correction deeds, which facilitated `the granting of the permits, were in contradiction of Section 18/9 of the National Forestry Reform Laws of 2006 , which he said, provided amongst others that the granting of the permits or permission for harvest or use of forest resources was contrary to any provision of the laws, which they committed the crimes of economic sabotage.

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