President yet to respond
Cllr. Charles Gibson, the man announced by President George Weah to serve as the next Justice Minister and Attorney General is, according to court records, currently suspended from practicing law in Liberia by the Supreme Court for duping one of his clients, Anwar A. Saoud, of US$25,400.
According to reports, Gibson was successful in collecting thousands of United States dollars from Saoud’s delinquent customers, from which he was allowed to take 20 percent as part of his legal fees.
Cllr. Gibson was, however, suspended by the Supreme Court on February 24, 2017 following an investigation conducted by the Grievance and Ethics Committee of the National Bar Association into allegations of improper conduct levied against him by Anwar A. Saoud, President of the GEECO Corporation.
The Bar’s Grievance and Ethics Committee had charged Gibson for misleading his client on whose behalf he had instituted a series of lawsuits to recover loans and other obligations from his customers, from which Gibson was unable to account for the US$25,400 he had earlier collected.
At the time, Associate Justice Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh, who delivered the judgment on behalf of the Supreme Court, suspended Gibson’s license for two months and mandated him to refund Saoud the sum of US$25,400.
Additionally, the court imposed a ban on him from practicing law in Liberia until the money was restituted. But it would take nearly a year — plus a lofty presidential nomination — for Cllr. Gibson to pay back his client and begin to clear his name.
In her judgment, Justice Yuoh maintained that Gibson’s action as a lawyer breached Rule 15 of the client–lawyer relationship, which states that “A lawyer should refrain from any act whereby for his personal benefit or gain he abuses or takes advantage of the confidence reposed in him by his client. Money collected for his client, or other money or property of his said client coming into his possession as a result of his professional duty to his client should be reported and accounted for promptly, and should not under any circumstances be commingled with his own or be used by him.”
News of Gibson’s suspension surfaced almost immediately after his name was announced as the new Minister of Justice awaiting confirmation by the Senate.
Cllr. Gibson’s appointment forms part of the first batch of President Weah’s cabinet ministers announced on Monday, just hours after his inauguration speech, where he assured Liberians about his willingness to fight corruption in public service.
However, it is not clear whether President Weah was aware of Gibson’s suspension before his appointment. It is also not clear at this point how President Weah is going to react to this development, but sources suggest that given the long standing but very close ties between the President and Gibson, it appears unlikely, at least for now, that President Weah is going to withdraw his support for his long time friend.
In his inaugural address, President Weah made few promises. Key among them was to ensure that corruption is rooted out from public service.
“Those who do not refrain from enriching themselves at the expense of the people, the law will take its course. I say today that you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” President Weah declared.
The Suprme Court’s decision against Cllr. Gibson was based on findings of both the Grievance and Ethics Committee and the Amicus Curiae (friend of the Supreme Court).
An Amicus Curiae (literally, “friend of the court”) is someone who is not a party to a case and is not solicited by a party, but who assists a court by offering information that bears on the case.
Meanwhile, according to sources, Cllr. Gibson had been obedient to the court’s mandate banning him from the practice of law.
The Daily Observer has reliably gathered that on January 17, 2018, Cllr. Gibson issued a manager’s check (number 00021621) in the equivalent amount of the US$25,400 in Liberian dollars equivalent, which suggests that the Weah team knew about Gibson’s suspension and made sure the amount was paid before his appointment. Yet, up to the publication of this story, the ban on Gibson’s law practice had not been lifted.
The nomination of Gibson by President Weah resembles an identical move by Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who nominated Cllr. Fonati Koffa, a lawyer who was criminally prosecuted, sentenced and served jail time, as well as disbarment from law practice in the United States of America, for embezzlement of client funds, among other charges. Koffa recently won the Representative seat for Grand Kru County Electorial District #2.
When Koffa’s nomination could not materialize, the former President hired him as Minister of State Without Portfolio, to lead the Special Presidential Task Force, with the sole mandate of prosecuting Cllr. Varney Sherman, former Speaker J. Alex Tyler and others named in the Global Witness allegations of bribery of Liberian government officials to change the Procurement law in favor of British investor, Sable Mining.