Samukai Decries ‘Failures’ in Liberia’s Justice System

Former Defense Minister Brownie J. Samukai

— Says he hopes no one else suffers what he and his colleagues suffer now

Former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai is decrying the country’s justice system for what he termed as its failure to be fair and just in its handling of many cases, including the one involving him and his then two deputies.

“About Sirleaf not showing up to testify on our behalf is nothing different from the fact that a written communication from the former President’s office (while she was still President) authorizing us to do what we did was presented in evidence to the court,” Samukai said on Spoon Talk, a late evening/night tv Liberian show.

“The court took it and put it in the dustbin. My lawyers still have a copy of that letter but I am not interested in cherry-picking the case. We have a sad justice system. The rule of law is the bedrock for any democracy’s longevity. The benefit of American democracy is that they trust the courts. You know that every case that goes to the US Supreme court is discussed in the public. In Liberia, it’s taboo. A case is in court, you dare not talk about it in public. They can hold you in contempt. What kind of democracy is that? We need to elevate our democracy. The very lawyers who are serving as judges and Justices are educated in the US.”

Samukai's statement comes nearly four months after he and two of his former deputies reached an agreement with the Ministry of Justice to pay US$500 monthly as part of his attempt to pay back the Armed Forces of Liberia pension funds — for which they were “convicted for theft of property, criminal conspiracy, misuse of public money, and money laundering of over US$1 million and sentenced to two years in prison.”

This will take more than 150 years before the money is restituted. Samukai was convicted along with Joseph P. Johnson, his deputy for administration then, and Nyumah Dorkor, then comptroller of the Ministry of Defense.

The ruling from Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay, of Criminal Court “C”, was challenged and appealed before the Supreme Court but the lower Court’s verdict remained in force, thereby leading to a two-year jail sentence for the former Minister of National Defense and his co-defendants.

And early this year, he was issued reprieve clemency by President George Weah, which remove the then burden of forceful restitution of 50% of the judgment sum, equal to US$573,828.15 which he failed to do along with co-defendants, causing the Supreme Court to order their jailing until the full sum of the money is paid. 

The President's clemency back then brought an end to the drawn-out legal saga of Samukai, whose whereabouts at certain times were unknown after being ordered jailed by the Supreme Court.  However, when the clemency was announced, it changed everything as he started to make public appearances. 

Samukai, who overwhelmingly won the December 2020 Lofa County Senatorial seat, was prevented from being certificated after the Supreme Court reaffirmed a lower court ruling that he misappropriated money belonging to personnel of the Armed Forces of Liberia while serving as Minister.

His case became incredibly contentious after the Supreme Court revoked the suspension of the two-year jail sentence handed against him and his two deputies for failing collectively failed to comply with the high court’s mandate and judgment to pay 50% of the judgment sum, equal to US$573,828.15, within six months of last year. 

That ruling then means that Samukai would have served two years imprisonment along with his co-defendants, Johnson and Ndokor while paying the full judgment amount of US$1,147,656.35, minus the amount the former paid.

The Court by then noted that law provides that where criminal defendants are jointly adjudged guilty of a crime, they are together, considered collectively responsible for any fines or penalty until the judgment is fully satisfied.  

The Supreme Court added that the defendants were jointly charged and convicted and, at no time did the Supreme Court order any of the defendants to make payment separately from the others. As such, she noted, the issue of separate payment by the defendants has no place in the Supreme Court’s verdict.

However, for Samukai, the Supreme Court erred in its ruling.  The former Defense Minister added that while he is not a lawyer, he has learned and understood from the Liberian law (unquoted or cited) that for one to be charged with theft, there must be any of three conditions satisfied. 

These include: “one not having the authority to take, to possess, to remove or to use anything for any purpose; one must have used that for one’s personal benefit, or one must have injured the party who raised or suffered the case.”

He rhetorically asked, to whom he and his colleagues’ action, approved by the then Commander-in-chief of the AFL, caused any injury in any way.

“I accepted the decision of the court but I don’t respect it. The decision did not meet even the minimum standard under our country’s legal jurisprudence. It’s the system we have but we can improve it. We have educated, well-trained lawyers. All they have to do is to get used to fair decisions and be willing to suffer the consequences that come along with taking or making fair decisions in cases.”

“We have modeled our democracy after that of the United States. Judges in America are not elected as it is in our case but their integrity brings to bear skepticism whenever there is a case before them,” Samukai said. “The Supreme Court in America discusses cases publicly but here in Liberia, it is a crime. It is a taboo and that leads to very bad decisions in the end, most often.”

“What injury did we bring to train the AFL and prepare them to go to Mali? President Sirleaf issued me the authorization to do what I did. I did not use a single dime to my person; so where in our law did I commit a theft?”

He said he was even more shocked that he and his colleagues were convicted for the misuse of private funds but earlier charged for the misuse of public funds.

“Under our law, it is not the prerogative of any court to change the charge levied against anybody. You charged me for the misuse of private funds but convicted me for the misuse of public funds. How could that have been possible as it did if the system is not challenged and influenced by certain factors?” he asked once more rhetorically.

About accepting to pay the money, Samukai noted that he did it blindly but was cognizant of the fact that there is a future and the future shall do justice as required.

“The verdict was a combined decision including me and my colleagues. Therefore the US$500 we are paying monthly is done by the three of us. This means each of us is paying US$166.6. We put our respective sums together and reach all the US$500 and present it to the government,” he clarified for people who think that he alone is paying US$500 monthly.

He pointed out that the most important thing is that Liberians must learn to rely on the rule of law and the integrity of the men and women who are charged with the responsibility to interpret the law.