After pleading “not guilty” to their indictment, past and present Liberian officials jointly facing economic sabotage trial have all rejected trial by jury, except for indicted U.K. - based Sable Mining executive Klaus Piprek whose plea and decision regarding jury this paper did not see in the court minutes.
Following defendants’ resistance against prosecution’s request to qualify and sequestrate a jury panel for the trail on Thursday, 9 March, presiding Criminal Court “C” Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay said “the action of Defendants this morning, though legal, took the Court itself out of balance”.
The Judge had previously said on Thursday morning that considering the magnitude of the case in reference to the national and international interest it has generated, “it would have been … expedient to utilize the trial jury to dissect and analyze the evidence and facts and determine the faith of their countrymen in line with the law”.
Following a damaging Global Witness report in 2016 claiming that a U.K.-based Sable Mining had bribed Liberian officials with over US$950,000 to make a law declaring Mount Wologizi in Lofa County a non-bidding concession, government drew an indictment against former House Speaker J. Alex Tyler, former ruling Unity Party Chairman Sen. H. Varney G. Sherman and several others.
The indictment further drew in former Minister of State for Economic and Legal Affairs, now Sen. Morris Saytumah; former Lands and Mines Minister Dr. Eugene Shannon, Mr. Ernest C.B. Jones; Nigerian national
Christopher Onanuga; Willie Belleh; former National Investment Commission Boss Dr. Richard Tolbert; and Sable Mining executive Mr. Piprek.
The Court said it was “reluctantly” granting the defendants’ resistance against jury trial, having noting that trial by jury was a right of the defendant under Article 21 (h) of the Liberia Constitution and Chapter 22 Section 22.1 of the Civil Procedure Law.
“This Court however, wishes to put the parties on notice that it reserves equally [its] to take advantage of Chapter 23, Section 23.2 of the same Criminal Procedure Law at any state of the trial to empanel an adversary jury if need be”, Judge Gbeisay said.
A defense lawyer said prosecution had submitted 27 names as witnesses, but Judge Gbeisay had earlier said prosecution has voluntarily dropped one of the witnesses who is a lawyer representing former Speaker Tyler, Cllr. Johnny Momo from the witness list. The case continues at 9am on Friday, 10 March at the Criminal Court “C”, Temple of Justice.
By Winston W. Parley-Edited by Othello B. Garblah