The trial of two religious leaders, Bishop Manasseh Conto and Pastor Steven Kettor accused of duping a Korean businessman of US$134K, took a dramatic trend on Friday with the state first witness linking some unnamed officials of the World Food Program (WFP) to bribery.
The religious pair are members of the International Mission for Today Church located in Clara Town, Monrovia.
Hungchi Choi, chief executive officer (CEO) of Korea Trading Corporation (KTC) alleges the defendants through his then general manager, Henry Smith, who has remained at large since the indictment, entered into a vehicle rental contract with the WFP valued at US$18,445 monthly for five months, from October 2014, to January 12, and up to March 2015 in the name of a fictitious SACS Group.
In his testimony at the Criminal Court ‘C,’ the South Korean businessman claims that the UN staff (unnamed) assigned with the WFP demanded a monthly payment of US$2,500 to facilitate awarding of the contract to SACS, which the defendants did pay for that period of time.
Choi contended that the contract was to supply vehicles to the WFP to facilitate the delivery of food and other items to victims of the Ebola outbreak. He further claimed that a payment of US$92,225 was made for the five months, out of which the UN agency employees demanded US$12,500 as kickback but he said KTC did not receive a dime, because he was absent when the contract was signed and approved.
“Though, the defendants used SACS name for the contract, they received payment through KTC’s Ecobank account, but they could not account for the total of US$92,225 as contract fees for the five months the WFP paid for,” the state witness claimed.
In his testimony, Choi did not indicate which WFP officials were involved in the scam.
He however claims that the discovery of the bribery was initiated by Smith. According to him the discovery was also supported with documents including bank’s statements indicating deposits and withdrawals the defendants made, while he was not in the country as a result of the Ebola outbreak.
Choi also claimed that besides confession, he noticed WFP’s stickers were placed on most of his vehicles, demonstrating that his cars were being rented by that UN entity.
“When I returned to the country in 2015, all of the vehicles marked with the WFP’s stickers were all damaged and my bank account was depleted by the defendants,” Choi told the court.
“I have addressed communications with the supporting documents to the WFP’s headquarters, and they have assured me to wait for the outcome of the case,” Choi said.
Further to his testimony, Choi said before his departure from the country upon the advice of his government, he left behind 31 vehicles with the defendants to run the company on his behalf.
The case continues.